Home | News    Tuesday 14 November 2006

CAR rebels make fresh call for talks after advance

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Nov 13, 2006 (BANGUI) — Rebels in Central African Republic said on Monday they had captured a diamond mining town in the northeast and renewed their call for political negotiations.

But the government questioned their intentions, saying it was far from clear what there was to discuss with a group of "adventurers".

Former colonial ruler France, responding to a request for military aid from President Francois Bozize’s government, said it would provide logistical and intelligence support to "help the CAR armed forces regain control of their territory".

Fighters of an anti-Bozize rebel coalition, the UFDR, have been probing south since they seized the northeast Vakaga prefecture capital of Birao, more than 800 km (500 miles) northeast of the capital, Bangui, on Oct. 30.

A UFDR spokesman said rebel forces took Sam Ouandja, 85 km (50 miles) southeast of Ouanda Djalle, whose capture they had announced on Friday. The area around Ouandja is an alluvial diamond zone not far from the border with Sudan.

"We’ll stay where we are for the moment, we’re seeking a dialogue," rebel spokesman Capt. Abakar Sabone told Reuters, speaking by phone from the small West African state of Benin, from where UFDR leaders have been making announcements.

After initially denying Ouanda Djalle had been captured, a spokesman for the Central African Republic’s presidency said on Monday rebels had indeed entered the town. But he added he had no information about the situation in Sam Ouandja.

Bozize’s government accuses Sudan of arming the UFDR rebels and says their raid is part of violence spilling over the border from the conflict-torn western Sudanese region of Darfur. Khartoum denies backing the rebels.

Leaders of the UFDR coalition, whose name means Union of Democratic Forces for Unity in French, have demanded power-sharing talks with Bozize, whom they accuse of ruling Central African Republic like a personal fiefdom. They say he favours his family and Gbaya ethnic clan over other groups.

"We want to sit down at a table to discuss the nation’s problems," UFDR President Michel Djotodia told Reuters.

He appealed to France and to the six-nation Central African Monetary and Economic Community (CEMAC) to persuade Bozize to accept negotiations.

FRENCH SUPPORT

Without rejecting talks outright, Bozize’s spokesman Cyriaque Gonda questioned what he called the "adventurers’ intentions" of the rebels.

"We don’t know what dialogue they’re talking about. What are we going to dialogue about? ... what they are claiming are personal, egoistic interests," he told Reuters.

Gonda added the Central African Republic’s army was tracking the rebels and Bangui was not in danger.

Foreign military experts say they doubt the 4,500-strong government army can retake Birao without outside help.

France, which has a military contingent stationed in neighbouring Chad, said it was following developments closely in coordination with regional African bodies like CEMAC.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said France was ready to join regional efforts "help the Central African Republic armed forces regain control of their territory".

France would provide logistical support and intelligence from aerial reconnaissance, he said.

Central African Republic is asking the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers to secure its borders with Chad and Sudan.

(Reuters)

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