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BANGUI: Central African Republic’s embattled President Francois Bozize said yesterday that he was ready to share power with the leaders of a rebellion that has swept aside government defences to within striking distance of the capital.
The three-week old onslaught by the rebel alliance Seleka has highlighted the instability of the landlocked former French colony, which remains one of the least developed nations on the planet despite its rich deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds.
“I am ready to form a government of national unity with Seleka to run the country together, because I am a democrat,” Bozize told a news conference following a meeting with African Union Chairman Thomas Yayi Boni here.
He added that he was ready to attend peace talks that are being organised by regional leaders in Libreville, Gabon, “without condition and without delay”.
It was unclear if the offer would defuse a crisis that has posed the biggest threat to Bozize’s nearly 10 years in charge of the country, nestled in the midst of a turbulent region known for wars and haunted by armed groups.
A spokesman for the rebels said the group would consider Bozize’s offer, but added its aim was not to join the existing government. “I take note of his proposals. We need to meet to study them,” Seleka spokesman Eric Massi told France 24 television. He said the rebels also wanted to see what guarantees would be made to them.
“Know that Seleka’s aim today is not to enter into a government but to allow the people of Central African Republic to be able to drive the country towards development and self-fulfillment,” he said. Seleka, an alliance of three armed groups, accuses Bozize of failing to honour a 2007 deal under which members who laid down their guns were meant to be paid. It claims to have a force of more than 3,000 men and to have positions within 75km of Bangui.
The last time rebels reached Bangui was in 2003 during the insurgency that swept Bozize to power. Residents in the ramshackle riverside capital have either fled or stockpiled food and water in their homes in preparation for a rebel attack.
The streets of the city were largely deserted save for military patrols and a trickle of churchgoers. Youths carrying machetes had set up makeshift barricades along main roads during a driving ban imposed overnight.