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C.Africa rebel chief captured

LIBREVILLE, Jan 9 – The head of the only rebel group in the Central African Republic still fighting the government has been captured and is in a critical condition in jail, his wife said on Saturday.

Charles Massi, 57, a former prime minister who heads the rebel Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), had been beaten after being captured by soldiers of the presidential guard, Denise Massi told an AFP reporter in Libreville.

Speaking by telephone from France, she said she had learned "unofficially" that he was being held in a prison "nicknamed Guantanamo" at Bossembele, 150 kilometres (95 miles) northwest of the capital Bangui.

"He was beaten up and he\\\’s in a lamentable, a critical, condition," she said, adding that she had last spoken to her husband on December 18.

She said he had been captured by the presidential guard in the border area of Chad, Cameroon and Central Africa, without specifying in which country.

His arrest has not been announced by the government of President Francois Bozize.

Massi was prime minister under Ange-Felix Patasse, the president toppled in a bloodless coup by Bozize in 2003. He also served as a minister under Bozize.

He was arrested in southern Chad in May last year for illegally entering that country and "attempted destabilisation of a neighbouring state." He was freed in August after expressing his intention to make peace with Bangui, according to Chadian Interior Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir.

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Massi\\\’s capture came days after government forces in the Central African Republic clashed with CPJP rebels near the border with Chad.

A military official said on December 9 that "several" rebel fighters and two government soldiers were killed in an attack on a CPJP base in the northern Ngarba region.

The army ordered the operation after receiving information that the rebels were preparing to launch a fresh assault on the town of Ndele, 120 kilometres (70 miles) to the south, the official said.

The CPJP briefly seized control of Ndele in late November, after leading several abortive assaults on the town, before it was retaken by the army in fighting that left more than a dozen dead.

In a statement sent to AFP, the rebel movement accused Bangui of "mistakenly pursuing a logic of war," accusing it of ignoring an offer of negotiations extended to the government in August.

"The launch of hostilities against us will only needlessly weaken the country," it charged.

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