Central African Republic And Rebel Rivals Agree Unity Government

Warring parties in the Central African Republic agreed Friday to call a ceasefire and form a government of national unity under President Francois Bozize, with general elections planned in a year.
A coalition of three rebel groups known as Seleka, or the "alliance" in the Sango language, took up arms in the lawless north of the mineral-rich but impoverished country on December 10 and swept south, stopping within striking distance of the capital Bangui.

Facing little resistance from an ill-trained and ill-equipped army, the rebel forces seized a string of key towns, defying UN Security Council calls to stop their advance.

The peace plan, reached during a third day of talks in the Gabonese capital Libreville, calls for a ceasefire and for the appointment of a prime minister drawn from the opposition, according to the text of the accord.

It also calls for the withdrawal of "all foreign military forces" except for those of FOMAC, a force put in place in 2008 in the chronically unstable country by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

Chadian President Idriss Deby, the rotating head of ECCAS which sponsored the talks, said he has asked the rebels to set up the transitional government with Bozize "from tomorrow".

Under the plan, Bozize will stay in power until the end of his mandate in 2016 and cannot revoke the new prime minister's power during the transition period.

The rebels, who accused Bozize of failing to uphold earlier peace deals, had called for him to face war crimes proceedings before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The violence in the country of some five million has affected more than 300,000 children, including through recruitment as child soldiers, family separation, sexual violence and forced displacement, UNICEF has said.

The United Nations humanitarian agency (OCHA) has voiced serious concerns about the protection of civilians amid reports of widespread looting and violence.

The UN's World Food Programme, which has suspended its operations in the Central African Republic, has said that hundreds of tonnes of food aid were stolen from warehouses across the country.

The Central African Republic has been notoriously unstable since its independence from France in 1960.

Bozize himself took power in a coup in 2003 and has since been twice elected into office. He has been accused of plotting to modify the constitution to allow him to seek a third term in 2016.

FOMAC troops were deployed in 2008 with the task of helping to consolidate the peace.

The force includes up to 500 soldiers from Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Cameroon. These troops have begun to pull out of the country, with a definitive withdrawal planned by the end of the year.

Nearly 600 French troops are permanently stationed in Bangui, but Paris has insisted that their sole task is to ensure the safety of an estimated 1,200 French nationals.
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