Mediators have called for a ceasefire for talks to begin. The Seleka rebel group and at least nine opposition parties in Central Africa Republic have demanded the stepping down of President Francois Bozize over allegations he rigged past elections and committed atrocities in the coup that first took him to power. Representatives of Seleka circulated a document at the talks in Libreville, saying Mr. Bozize should face charges before the International Criminal Court over atrocities he committed during the rebellion that brought him to power.
The calls are coming as regional-brokered peace talks get underway in Libreville, in neighbouring Gabon. Nine opposition parties attending the talks also demanded the president step down, accusing him of rigging election victories in 2005 and 2011 and isolating the country.
Mr. Bozize did not make an immediate comment, but on Tuesday accused the rebels of being foreign gunmen hired by unnamed businesses. Mr. Bozize has relied on foreign military help to fend off a series of smaller insurgencies. Regional powers, chief among them Chad, have sent in hundreds of troops to bolster his army this time. The Seleka rebels took a string of towns, pushing government forces to within 75 km of Bangui before bowing to international pressure to attend the negotiations in Gabon. Mediators on Wednesday urged the government of Central African Republic and rebels to sign a ceasefire as talks got under way to end a month-long revolt, sources at the meeting said. The sources, however, said there was little sign either side was ready to make a deal. The rebels have come within striking distance of the capital Bangui, posing the biggest threat to President Francois Bozize since he took control of the mineral-rich country in a rebellion a decade ago.
"I am asking everyone to show restraint and, in this context, we will suggest at the start of the talks that a ceasefire agreement be signed," said Basile Ikouebe, foreign minister of Congo Republic, which is mediating the talks. The Seleka rebels are demanding that the president step down, accusing him of failing to honour a 2007 peace agreement to give insurgents money and jobs in exchange for laying down their weapons. "The resignation of President Bozize and the establishment of a political transition is a sine qua non condition to end the crisis," the parties said in the joint statement. They also demanded the suspension of the constitution and the appointment of a transitional government and national assembly which should be in place for not more than three years, pending elections. Mr. Bozize has demanded that he should be allowed to complete his mandate, which ends in 2016, and promised not to seek another term.
"The issue of my departure is out of order. I was twice elected as head of state with more than 70 per cent of the vote. I’m here and that’s it. According to information reaching us, among these rebels are Janjaweed (Sudanese militia) and foreigners from neighbouring countries" Mr. Bozize told journalists late on Tuesday in Bangui. CAR’s former colonial ruler France used air strikes to defend Mr. Bozize in 2006 but has refused his request for military help against the Seleka rebels, saying the days of intervention are over. Perennial instability has hobbled Central African Republic’s chances of securing significant investment from the foreign companies who could exploit its mineral wealth. France has the biggest mining investment, a uranium mine in the southeast being developed by the nuclear energy group AREVA.