CAR rebels ready for talks

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iol pic afr chad rebels -unrest AFP A picture taken on January 1, 2008 shows Central African Republic Army Forces soldiers in a military camp in Birao, Central African Republic.

Bangui - Rebels in Central African Republic said on Thursday they had halted their advance towards the capital and were open to peace talks.

A rebel coalition complaining that President Francois Bozize had failed to honour a 2007 peace deal has marched to within 400 km of the capital, prompting neighbouring Chad to dispatch soldiers to help CAR's army.

“The advance of our troops has been unilaterally halted,” the Seleka rebel alliance said in a statement sent to Reuters.

The statement, signed by Justin Mambissi Matar, secretary general of the movement, said the push south had been put on hold after Chadian authorities had pledged not to attack rebel positions.

It was not immediately possible to contact residents in rebel-held areas to confirm if the advance had stopped.

The rebel Seleka alliance said it was open to peace talks but would remain in the territory it has secured during a two-week advance, rejecting an appeal on Wednesday from the United Nations Security Council to withdraw from captured towns.

The alliance is made up of breakaway factions from previous rebel groups that signed a 2007 peace deal.

Chadian support was requested by CAR earlier this week, underscoring the fragility of the landlocked nation, roughly the size of former colonial master France.

Since independence in 1960, the nation has endured decades of instability caused by a mix of local rebellions, banditry, ethnic tensions and the spill-over of conflicts in neighbouring Chad, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

As a result, major investment in its timber, gold, uranium and diamond deposits have been discouraged. Some of the diamond deposits are now in rebel-held territory. - Reuters


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