N‘DJAMENA (Reuters) - Regional African heads of state demanded on Friday that rebels in the Central African Republic, who have seized several town in the past week, pull back their forces to original positions and accept peace talks with the government.
The rebels of the Seleka alliance, complaining that President Francois Bozize had failed to honor the terms of a 2007 peace deal, launched a lightning attack which has brought them to about 300 km (186 miles) from the capital Bangui.
The heads of state including Ali Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou N‘guesso of Congo Republic, Idriss Deby of Chad and representatives from Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, gave the rebels a week to pull back to their original positions.
“The heads of state and delegations agreed to exclude any military option as a solution to the crisis in the Central African Republic. They called for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” a statement after the meeting said.
The statement from leaders of the Central African regional bloc, did not say what would happen if the rebels failed to withdraw.
It said negotiations between the rebels and the government will be held as soon as possible in Libreville, Gabon, on an unspecified date to revisit the terms of the previous peace accords.
“If there is a resurgence of violence in the Central African Republic, it is because the previous agreements did not work well,” Chadian President Deby said after the meeting.
“This is why the opposition, the rebels and the government must go back figure out what did not work and find a way to make it work,” Deby, who hosted the emergency regional summit, added.
The rebels, who decided on Thursday to halt their advance on the capital ahead of the N‘Djamena meeting, were not immediately available to comment.
The Seleka alliance had said it was open to peace talks but would remain in the territory it has secured during a two-week advance, rejecting an appeal from the United Nations Security Council to withdraw from captured towns.
Several thousand people protested in the streets of Bangui on Friday afternoon over the rebel advance.
Since independence in 1960 from France, the Central African Republic has endured decades of instability caused by a mix of rebellions, banditry, ethnic tensions and the spill-over of conflicts in neighboring Chad, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
As a result, major investment in its timber, gold, uranium and diamond deposits have been discouraged. Some of the diamond deposits are now in rebel-held territory.
Reporting by Madjiasra Nako in N'Djamena and Paul-Marin Ngoupana in Bangui; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Michael Roddy