Central Africa states to up troops in Central African Republic ahead of peace talks

Sat Dec 29, 2012 4:42am EST
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By Phal Mezui Ndong

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Central African Republic's neighbors have agreed to increase the number of troops stationed there to help defend against rebels threatening to overthrow the government.

The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) - which already has more than 500 peacekeepers in CAR - announced its decision overnight in Gabon's capital Libreville, ahead of peace talks planned between the SELEKA rebels and the government in early January.

The insurgency poses the biggest threat yet to President Francois Bozize's nearly ten years in charge of the nation, which has remained poor since independence from France in 1960 despite rich deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds.

"We are thinking of a way to deploy this mission as quickly as possible," Gabon Foreign Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet told reporters after a meeting with his regional counterparts. He did not say how many soldiers would be deployed.

The ECCAS troops, mostly from Chad, are part of the MICOPAX (Mission for the consolidation of peace in Central African Republic) peacekeeping force, but have been unable to prevent a rebel advance to within 75 km (45 miles) of the capital Bangui since early December.

The SELEKA rebels have threatened to overthrow Bozize if he does not live up to a previous peace deal offering former fighters pay and jobs, but they have agreed to stay out of Bangui to allow for peace talks.

Officials in Bangui on Friday said rebels had agreed to send delegates to Libreville in early January. A rebel spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

Some clashes between government troops and rebel fighters were reported on the outskirts of Damara, 75 km north of Bangui, on Friday, and some residents of the capital were fleeing the city, fearing a fresh rebel push.   Continued...