, BANGUI, Central African Republic, Jan 6 – Central African Republic rebels who are within striking distance of the country’s capital repeated their demand on Sunday that any deal in peace talks due to start on Tuesday must include the departure of President Francois Bozize.
The central African regional bloc CEEAC hopes to host the negotiations between the rebels and Bozize in Gabon’s capital Libreville in a bid to end the month-long crisis in the mineral-rich but impoverished and coup-prone state.
But prospects for a solution are clouded by the rebels’ insistence that the president, who came to power in a coup in 2003, must stand down and by Bozize’s flat refusal to do so.
Eric Massi, a Paris-based spokesman for the rebels, made the demand again on Sunday, saying the insurgents were hoping to achieve a political solution that would restore peace but that “Bozize’s departure is non-negotiable”.
He said he regretted that the CEEAC had fixed a date for the talks without advance agreement on the agenda.
Rebels leaders on the ground in the Central African Republic (CAR) meanwhile said that their flight to Gabon set for Sunday was postponed to Monday.
But they insisted they would take part in the talks, which have the support of the UN Security Council and the United States,
“We are ready. We want to leave for the negotiations,” Colonel Djouma Narkoyo told AFP by satellite telephone.
Bozize’s representatives were also due in Gabon on Monday, while the president himself plans to travel there only once the talks have officially begun, a source close to the presidency said.
The Seleka rebel coalition, which says Bozize has not abided by terms of earlier peace deals, launched an offensive on December 10 in the north and easily overran an ill-equipped and poorly trained army.
They marched across a large part of the former French colony, capturing key towns along the way, before halting their push within striking distance of the capital Bangui, in the southwest.
The rebels at the weekend captured two more towns, just days before the Gabon talks were due to open, officials said, but there was no immediate reaction from the rebels themselves to the claim.
Unrest in the landlocked equatorial country has alarmed the country’s neighbours and the international community, with the UN Security Council twice calling on Seleka to halt its offensive and engage in peace talks.