The rebels who have seized hold of much of the Central African Republic (CAR) yesterday renewed their threat to enter the capital Bangui, accusing the government of abuses against the population and those close to the rebels.
“We call on the African peacekeeping forces to intervene immediately in the capital to stop the abuses and murders of prisoners, or that they don’t prevent us from doing so,” rebel spokesman Eric Massi said by telephone.
His comments follow a proposal by the leader of the African Union, Beninese President Thomas Boni Yayi, of a government of national unity to resolve the conflict in the CAR.
Boni Yayi arrived in Bangui on Sunday to try to find a negotiated resolution to the crisis. The president of the African Union met with Central African Republic President Francois Bozize and then made an appeal to the rebels.
“I beg my rebellious brothers, I ask them to cease hostilities, to make peace with President Bozize and the Central African people,” Boni Yayi said at a press conference in Bangui. “If you stop fighting, you are helping to consolidate peace in Africa. African people do not deserve all this suffering. The African continent needs peace and not war.”
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, which would include representation from the rebels and the Bozize government.
Bozize also addressed the conference and said, although he plans to stay in power until his term ends in 2016, he is not against having the rebels enter a coalition government.
“We’ll probably be able to set up a national unity government. I apologize to the suffering Central African people,” Bozize said. “It is a message of peace to my brothers of Central African Republic.”
The African Union’s leader arrived in Bangui when many feared there would be a fight over the capital, a city of 600,000.
According to several families in Bangui, members of the Presidential Guard have kidnapped people suspected of supporting the rebels who have seized 10 cities in the country’s north over the past three weeks.
A rebel spokesman, Colonel Juma Narkoyo, warned Bozize: “We warn the head of state and his family to stop abducting our parents. They have nothing to do with it. If he wants to solve its problems, he comes to meet us on the ground. We expect firm feet.”
He said that a dozen people have already been arrested in Bangui.
On his arrival in Bangui, Yayi Boni had a private meeting for more than two hours with Bozize in the VIP lounge of Mpoko airport, which is secured by French troops.
So far Boni Yayi has no meetings scheduled with rebels or with the democratic opposition.
Boni Yayi’s diplomatic effort comes as France has deployed an additional 180 troops to protect its interests.
The French reinforcements arrived on Sunday from Gabon, bringing the total French military force in Bangui to nearly 600, Colonel Thierry Burkhard said on Sunday. The troops are to protect French residents in the capital, which many fear will be attacked by the rebels.
Bozize earlier appealed to France for help against the rebels, but French President Francois Hollande’s government said it would only protect French interests and would not prop up the Bangui government.