Central African Republic leader offers cease-fire to rebels

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — President Faustin Archange Touadera declared a unilateral cease-fire Friday with the armed rebel groups that have threatened to overthrow him once already this year in Central African Republic, though it was not known whether militants would hold their fire.

The surprise move by the president came without any immediate reaction from rebel spokesmen, and it was not known why Touadera had decided to make such a conciliatory gesture after long opposing dialogue with armed groups.

“Peace is priceless, and there is no true peace except that which comes from a frank dialogue between the sons and daughters of a country torn apart by endless crises such as ours,” Touadera said in a speech carried on national radio. “We must give peace a chance, regardless of the atrocities and injustices suffered, the suffering and bruises endured.”

He urged the rebel leaders “to finally respect their word and give peace, security and living together a chance, as a guarantee for the socio-economic development of our country.”

Though military operations were to end as of midnight Friday, Touadera clarified that security forces could still act in self-defense and could also maintain public order without violating the cease-fire. The U.N. peacekeeping mission known as MINUSCA will continue its operations unaffected, he said.

In January, rebels tried to seize the capital but were repelled by security forces after intense fighting on the city’s outskirts.

The mineral-rich country has faced deadly intercommunal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power and forced Bozize from office.

Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias later fought back, also targeting civilians in the streets. Untold thousands were killed, and most of the capital’s Muslims fled the capital in fear of their lives.

The country saw a period of relative peace in late 2015 and 2016, but violence then intensified once again. A peace deal between the government and 14 rebel groups aimed at ending years of fighting was signed in February 2019.

But violence blamed on CAR’s former president, Bozize, and his allies has thrown the agreement into doubt. The latest clashes erupted after the constitutional court rejected Bozize’s candidacy to run for president in December.

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Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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