Central African Republic Peace Talks May Start Jan. 10

Rebels from the Central African Republic may hold peace talks with the government in nearby Gabon on Jan. 10 after suspending a push toward the capital, Bangui, Gabon’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

The so-called Seleka militia, who say Central African Republic President Francois Bozize has failed to honor the terms of a 2008 peace deal, has been moving toward Bangui since starting an offensive on Dec. 10.

“The Seleka rebel coalition, which has ceased hostilities and any further advances towards Bangui, is now ready to join peace talks in Gabon,” Samuel Mve, the foreign ministry’s spokesman, said in an interview yesterday. The talks, brokered by the Economic Community of Central African States, or Eccas, will take place in Libreville, Gabon’s capital, he said.

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

Ugandan Troops

Uganda said it’s willing to contribute troops to halt fighting in Central African Republic, where it already has an unspecified number of soldiers hunting the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army insurgents.

The East African nation has also told the country to work through Eccas before asking the 12-nation International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to mediate, Henry Okello Oryem, minister of state for international relations, said.

“We couldn’t hold parallel mediation,” with Eccas already brokering the talks, he said by telephone today. “We advised them that ICGLR can only come in” if that initiative fails, he said.

Gabon and Congo Republic each sent 120 soldiers to the Central African Republic this week to provide operational support for a peace mission under the mandate of Eccas. France has also sent 150 troops, adding to the 250 it already has in the country to support the mission and protect the 1,200 French citizens living there.

Seleka, which means alliance in the local Sango language, is a coalition of various armed movements that predominantly originate from the northeast of the country.

A deterioration of the military situation may “plunge the Central African Republic into a protracted cycle of violence and adversely affect regional security and stability,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairwoman of the African Union Commission, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The country has a gross domestic product of about $3.6 billion and earns most of its foreign currency from timber and diamond exports, according to the CIA World Factbook.

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