Central African Republic coup leader says will review resource deals

BANGUI Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:15pm EDT

Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia, leader of Central African Republic's Seleka rebel alliance, arrives for peace talks at the airport in Libreville January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia, leader of Central African Republic's Seleka rebel alliance, arrives for peace talks at the airport in Libreville January 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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BANGUI (Reuters) - Central African Republic's new President Michel Djotodia, who seized power last week, said on Friday he would review resource deals signed by the previous government and promised to step down at elections in 2016.

Djotodia, a former civil servant turned rebel leader, said he would seek aid from former colonial power France and the United States to retrain the ill-disciplined army, which was easily overrun by fighters from his Seleka rebel coalition.

Paris and Washington have called for the rebels to adhere to a power-sharing deal signed in the Gabonese capital Libreville in January which mapped out a transition to elections in 2016 at which then-President Francois Bozize was forbidden from running.

"We are going to act according to the spirit of the Libreville agreements," Djotodia told his first news conference since seizing power. "Anyone currently in power supporting our takeover will not contest the next presidential elections, myself included."

The rebel takeover has been strongly condemned internationally. The African Union suspended Central African Republic's membership and imposed sanctions on Seleka leaders, including Djotodia.

A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. Defense Department had had no contact with the rebels and it condemned their illegal seizure of power. "We call on all involved parties to adhere to the Libreville Agreement and work to resolve this conflict," Major Rob Firman said.

In a bid to tap the country's under-exploited mineral wealth, Bozize had awarded China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) rights to explore for oil at Boromata, in the country's northeast near the border with Chad.

South Africa's DIG oil is also prospecting in the southeast of the country, near the town of Carnot.

"I will ask the relevant ministers to see whether things were done badly, to try to sort them out," Djotodia said, when asked about resource licenses awarded to Chinese and South African firms by Bozize.

Bozize, who fled to Cameroon immediately after the coup, has requested asylum in the West African nation of Benin, said the foreign minister of Benin, Nassirou Bako.

"He has not yet arrived in Cotonou and everything indicates he is still in Cameroon," Bako said late on Thursday.

CHANGE OF DIRECTION

Although Central African Republic has deposits of gold, diamonds, oil and uranium, these remain largely untapped, and the coup-prone nation is one of the poorest on Earth.

"We will rely on the European Union to help us develop this country," Djotodia said, adding that 80 percent of the country's foreign aid came from the bloc. "When we have been sick, the European Union was at our bedside. It will not abandon us now."

Djotodia's comments appeared to mark a change of tack from his predecessor Bozize's close ties to South Africa, with which he had signed a fresh bilateral Defense agreement in January.

South Africa deployed a training mission of about 400 troops in Central African Republic, 13 of whom were killed and 27 wounded when they fought rebel forces in the outskirts of Bangui at the weekend.

The Red Cross announced on Friday it had recovered 78 bodies from the streets since the rebel attack on the capital, which began on Saturday.

South African media and a senior Ugandan officer said on Thursday that South African soldiers were gathered in Uganda for a "new mission" to Central African Republic.

A Ugandan military source said on Friday that a transport plane carrying hundreds of South African troops left Entebbe air base on Thursday headed for the central African region.

South African army spokesman Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga told Reuters: "We don't have any troops that are en route to CAR ... We are still awaiting government instructions to tell us whether to withdraw from CAR or to reinforce in CAR."

(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Jon Hemming and Pravin Char)

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