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Central African Rebels Want More Cabinet Posts, Threaten Assault

March 18 (Bloomberg) -- The Central African Republic’s Seleka rebel group threatened to resume an offensive on the capital, Bangui, unless the government doubles the number of Cabinet posts it holds and frees its members from prison.

The demands were made after the five ministers who represent Seleka in the government traveled to Sibut, 164 kilometers (102 miles) north of Bangui for talks, said Michel Djotodia, a Seleka leader and the country’s defense minister. The five were told they must remain in Sibut until the group’s demands are met, he said.

“The decision comes from the troops and the ministers will respect the decision,” Djotodia said in an interview in Sibut. “We will stay in Sibut.”

Seleka was given five Cabinet posts as part of a peace agreement signed in Libreville, Gabon, in January, ending a monthlong rebellion that sought to oust President Francois Bozize’s government. The rebels say they began the attack because Bozize failed to honor a 2008 accord. Last week, the rebels seized at least two towns in the country’s southeast.

The current situation in the country is “grave,” Interior Minister Leon Diberet said in a phone interview yesterday. He declined to comment further.

Troops from neighboring Congo Republic, France, Gabon and South Africa have been deployed in the country since the peace agreement. Seleka also wants the South African forces to withdraw, Sylvain Borbas, a spokesman, said in an interview in Sibut.

‘Deeply Concerned’

The Central African Republic has been plagued by violence since independence from France in 1960, with at least four battles for Bangui taking place from 1996 to 2003, when Bozize toppled predecessor Ange-Felix Patasse, whom he served as army chief.

The U.S. State Department is “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating security situation in Central African Republic and urged negotiations, according to a statement.

“We call on President Bozize and the leadership of the Seleka alliance to cease hostilities immediately and implement the provisions of the Libreville agreement,” it said yesterday.

Pangea Diamondfields Inc., an Isle of Man-based exploration company, owns a concession in Central African Republic that is currently on care and maintenance, according to the company’s website. Axmin Inc., a Canadian gold explorer, said Jan. 7 it delayed plans to open a mine in the country by at least a year because of the rebellion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Crispin Dembassa in Abuja at cdembassa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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