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African Union head visits Central African Republic

Monday - 12/31/2012, 3:40am  ET

Associated Press

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) -- The leader of the African Union, Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi, has proposed a government of national unity to resolve the rebel conflict in Central African Republic.

Boni Yayi arrived here Sunday to try to find a negotiated resolution to the country's crisis. The president of the African Union met with 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 (Francois) Bozize and the Central African people," said Boni Yayi at a press conference in Bangui, the capital. "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 with him.

"We'll probably be able to set up a national unity government. I apologize to the suffering Central African people," said Bozize. "It is a message of peace to my brothers of Central African Republic, "said Bozize.

The African Union's leader arrived in Bangui when many feared there would be a fight over the capital, Bangui, 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, Col. 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. " H0e 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 Sunday from nearby Gabon, bringing the total French military force in the capital, Bangui, to nearly 600, Col. Thierry Burkhard told The Associated Press Sunday. The troops are to protect French residents in the capital, which many fear will be attacked by the rebels.

As fears mounted that the rebels would attack Bangui, Bozize imposed a curfew from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m.

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.

As the rebels have made a rapid advance across the country's north, residents in the capital now fear the insurgents could attack at any time, despite assurances by rebel leaders that they are willing to engage in dialogue instead of attacking Bangui.

On Saturday the rebels seized the city of Sibut, 185 kilometers (114 miles) from Bangui.

Sibut, a key transportation hub, fell without a shot being fired because the Central African Republic army and forces from neighboring Chad had pulled back to Damara, 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Bangui on Friday, said Minister of Territorial Administration Josie Binoua.

Neighboring African countries have agreed to send more forces to support the Bozize government.

Representatives from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States, or ECCAS, agreed at a meeting in Gabon Friday 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 ECCAS states, with more than 500 soldiers via their regional peacekeeping force in Central Africa, over the weekend warned the rebels to halt their advances.

"ECCAS forces are on high alert, and the city of Damara is the limit not to cross," said Antonio Di Garcia, the ECCAS representative in Bangui. He urged the government forces and the rebels to hold to their current positions and to begin dialogue.
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