Central African Republic President Francois Bozize, fending off rebels who are quickly seizing territory and approaching the capital, Bangui, has said that he is not against having the insurgents enter a coalition government with him.
The president’s statement follows a proposal by the head of the African Union (AU), Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi for a government of national unity to resolve the rebel conflict in central African country. Boni Yayi arrived in Bangui Sunday to try to find a negotiated resolution to the country's crisis.
The African Union president first met with President Bozize and then made the appeal to the rebels at a press conference. Boni Yayi said that Bozize had pledged to have an open dialogue with the rebels with the goal of establishing a government of national unity.
Meanwhile, the rebels have today been warned that they will face sanctions and the country suspended from activities of the African Union should they take power by force. Chairwoman of the Commission of the AU Nkosazana Dlamini Zulu said the AU rejects any attempt to seize power unconstitutionally.
In 2000 the predecessor of the AU, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), adopted the Lome Declaration on the framework for response to unconstitutional changes of government.
Once ruled by ‘Emperor’ Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a military officer who seized power in 1966 until 1979, the Central African Republic is a poor, landlocked country of some 4.4 million people. Despite the nation's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.
The country has suffered numerous rebellions since independence from France in 1960. President Bozize himself a former military commander, came to power in 2003 through a rebellion that was backed by Chadian forces in which he ousted his predecessor, Ange-Felix Patasse.
Bozize is confronting challenges from two fronts. Firstly, he faces a coalition of insurgents calling itself Séléka (‘alliance’) and formed by dissident factions of three former rebel groups who are demanding that the government re-negotiate the terms of the Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Signed in June 2008, the Agreement helped bring an end to conflicts inside the republic with the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) playing a key role in encouraging the signing of the pact between the Government and three main rebel groups, as well as the holding in December that same year of the so-called Inclusive Political Dialogue between the Government, rebel groups, the political opposition, civil society and other relevant stakeholders.
Amongst other provisions, the Dialogue called for the creation of a government of national unity; the creation of a national human rights commission; and the launch of a program for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants.
Coupled with these internal tensions in the north, the country experiences frequent armed incursions by rebel elements from neighbouring countries. They are the Front Populaire pour le Redressement (FPR) of the self-styled Chadian ‘General’ Abdel Kader, alias Baba Ladde, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has its origins in Uganda.
The first half of 2012 has witnessed a spike in LRA violence. Some 75,000 Central Africans remain displaced and living in precarious conditions, out of which over 20,000 were displaced by the LRA between 2008 and 2011.
United States Special Forces troops have deployed to Central African Republic among other countries in the region in the hunt for Joseph Kony, the fugitive rebel leader of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.
Meanwhile, French (former colonial power) reinforcements arrived Sunday from nearby Gabon, bringing the total French military force in the capital, Bangui, to nearly 600 troops. French President Francois Hollande, however, says France is in Central African Republic to protect French interests and not ‘to protect a regime.’
Representatives from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), agreed at a meeting in Gabon on December 28 to send forces to CAR, but did not did not specify how many troops would be sent or how quickly the military assistance would arrive.
The Community, with more than 500 soldiers via their regional peacekeeping force – Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC) and which is the regional African Standby Force – has also warned the rebels to halt their advance towards the capital.