Hope glimmers on the horizon in the Central African Republic as rebels agree to peace talks with the government. The pact comes just as the U.S. and France agree to deploy soldiers in CAR to join the 500 troops already there from neighboring countries.
The coalition force of African troops vowed to stop the rebels from advancing on Bangui, the capital city. General Jean-Felix Akaga, commander of the Central African Multinational Force (Fomac), warned the rebels that his troops would not let them take Damara, which is 48 miles from Bangui and the last strategic town before the capital.
“We will not give up Damara,” he was quoted as saying to the French news service, AFP.
“If the rebels attack Damara, it’s a declaration of war,” said Akaga, who is from Gabon. “Damara is the red line that the rebels cannot cross.”
The U.S. and France were conducting military operations in CAR before a rebel offensive threatened to topple the government of President François Bozize.
The U.S. has at least 100 Special Forces troops in the region pursuing fighters of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. President Obama advised Congress Saturday that he had ordered a “standby security force” of 50 troops to CAR, citing a “deteriorating security situation” that had forced the U.S. to withdraw embassy staff and other American citizens from Bangui.
Fomac has been in CAR since 2008 to help stabilize the region.
France has also had soldiers in CAR, its former colony, on a near-continuous basis since the African nation’s independence in 1960. In recent days, Paris has boosted its existing 250-troop deployment to nearly 600.
Eric Massi, spokesman for the rebel alliance Seleka, told journalists Wednesday the fighters had been ordered to halt their advance.
“I have asked our forces not to move their positions starting today because we want to enter talks in [Gabon’s capital] Libreville for a political solution,” he told Reuters.
“I am in discussion with our partners to come up with proposals to end the crisis, but one solution could be a political transition that excludes [President] Bozize.”
Seleka is an alliance of groups formed to fight Bozize’s government after they claimed he did not honor a 2007 peace deal, under which fighters who laid down their arms were to be paid.
Seleka have dismissed the president’s offer to form a national unity government.