Regional Leaders Meet to End Central African Republic Unrest

Talks to end the month-old rebellion in the Central African Republic are scheduled to resume today with a meeting of regional heads of government in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.

Basile Ikouebe, foreign minister of the Congo Republic, opened negotiations yesterday between the government of the Central African Republic and rebels. The insurgents, who accuse President Francois Bozize of failing to honor the terms of a 2008 peace deal, have been moving toward Bangui since starting an offensive on Dec. 10.

An alliance of insurgent groups, known as Seleka, moved on Jan. 7 to within 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) of Damara, the last major town on the road to Bangui. A multinational force from neighboring Congo Republic, France and Gabon has been deployed in the country, which is about the size of Texas. South Africa also agreed to send troops.

The Central African Republic has been plagued 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.

Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso was appointed mediator in the crisis last month by the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States. The insurgents are demanding that Bozize, 66, step down as president.

Gold Project

The rebellion prompted Axmin Inc., a Canadian gold explorer, to delay plans to open a mine in the country by at least a year, the company’s chief executive officer, George Roach, said Jan. 7 by phone. Axmin has invested C$95 million ($96 million) in the gold project, which began development in the late 1990s, he said.

Progress in securing financing for the Passendro Gold project near Bambari, about 280 kilometers northeast of Bangui, stalled after the insurgents overran the site last month, Roach said.

Shares in Axmin fell 11 percent yesterday to a record low on more than double the daily volume traded for the past three months on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The stock has fallen 86 percent since Feb. 1.

Gabon and Congo Republic each sent 120 soldiers to the Central African Republic 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.

South African President Jacob Zuma approved the dispatch of 400 troops, the presidency said on Jan. 6.

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 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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