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Brazzaville - Embattled President Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic arrived on Monday in Brazzaville for talks with his Congolese counterpart, who is poised to mediate in talks between Bangui and a rebel alliance, an AFP journalist said.
Bozize “should return in the afternoon” after his meeting with President Denis Sassou Nguesso, a government source said. The Congolese leader is due to oversee peace negotiations set to open Tuesday in Gabon's capital Libreville.
The Seleka alliance of three rebel movements took up arms on December 10 in northern CAR and has since moved steadily southwards, taking a string of towns, to stop within striking distance of Bangui.
The rebels initially called on the Bangui government to respect the terms of peace accords signed in 2007 and 2011, but have since upped their demands to include the departure of Bozize.
The Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) will host negotiations between the rebels and Bozize's regime in a bid to end the crisis in the mineral-rich but very poor landlocked state.
“We must work tirelessly for the consolidation of peace in the Central African Republic, by bringing the government and the armed rebellion into dialogue,” Sassou Nguesso told diplomats shortly before meeting Bozize at the airport.
“This is the occasion to invite the international community to support the efforts of (CEEAC) with a view to restoring the stability required for the development of this brother country,” he added.
The Central African bloc has also sent more troops to strengthen FOMAC, its multinational intervention force in the Central African Republic. The soldiers are serving as a buffer force between the rebels and Bangui.
Separately, South Africa has also sent troops. President Jacob Zuma's office said about 400 men in all would be deployed “to render support in fulfilment of an international obligation”.
One of the rebel groups that make up the Seleka alliance, the Wa Kodro Salute Patriotic Convention (CPSK), on Monday denounced the South African contribution.
It accused Pretoria of “coming to the aid of enemies of the people” by sending “mercenaries”, adding: “Bozize wants to plunge the country into chaos before his imminent departure.”
The delegations had initially been expected on Sunday in Libreville but were now thought to be arriving Monday, a source close to the Central African presidency said. Once the talks were underway, Bozize would also travel to the Gabonese capital, the source added.
Eric Massi, the spokesman for Seleka, on Sunday confirmed that the rebels would attend talks, but asked for more time to prepare. The head of the rebels, Michel Djodotia, had “committed himself to going to Libreville”, he added.
Paris-based rebel spokesman Massi said Sunday that the Seleka coalition wanted a political solution, but insisted that Bozize's departure was non-negotiable.
Central African Minister of Territorial Administration, Josue Binoua, said each delegation would have 15 members who would put “proposals for a way out of the crisis” to a committee led by Sassou Nguesso.
Binoua said the government delegation to Libreville would propose “army reform, an economic stimulus plan and the implementation of a new electoral code.”
Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday that he hoped the peace talks would spare the five million inhabitants of the coup-prone and chronically unstable country from enduring another civil war.
“I hope that the talks announced as taking place shortly will restore stability and spare the people from reliving the throes of civil war,” Benedict said in a speech to ambassadors of the Holy See.
Bozize, a former army general, came to power in a coup in 2003 and has been voted back into office twice, in 2005 and 2011. His regime has made peace with several rebel movements, but stands accused of breaking them. - AFP