BANGUI (Reuters) - Rebels in the Central African Republic said on Saturday they had seized another town in a push towards the capital Bangui in defiance of calls from regional leaders to halt their advance and accept peace talks.
The rebels said the call for negotiations was another excuse for President Francois Bozize, who seized power in a coup in 2003, to buy more time and cling to power.
“The people of the Central African Republic ... do not have that much time to waste in long negotiations which in the end will benefit General Francois Bozize in his will to hold on to power beyond 2016,” the rebels said in a statement.
“Our objective is simple: change the misrule of General Francois Bozize by force or through dialogue. And if it is through dialogue, then it will be a consensual solution, involving all components of the political and social life of our country,” said the rebels, known as the Seleka alliance.
Long-running instability in landlocked CAR, roughly the size of former colonial master France, has discouraged major investment in its timber, gold, uranium and diamond deposits.
A mix of local rebellions, banditry, ethnic tensions and the spill-over of conflicts in neighboring Chad, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo has undermined efforts to stabilize the nation which has suffered misrule since independence in 1960.
Regional heads of state of the 10-nation Central Africa bloc on Friday demanded the rebels pull back their forces to original positions and accept talks with the government within a week.
The alliance, composed of splinters from previous rebellions, has complained that Bozize has failed to implement the terms of a 2007 peace accord, which include payouts to rebels soldiers.
The rebels have captured nine towns in their two-week push towards the capital, including the diamond-mining town of Bria in the centre of the country, meeting little resistance from the ill-equipped government forces.
The statement, signed by Justin Mambissi Matar, secretary general for the alliance, said they took the town of Ippy about 500 km (300 miles) from the capital on Friday.
The government of the Central African Republic was not immediately available to comment on Saturday.
The rebels also warned neighboring Chad against intervening in the conflict after Chadian troops were deployed into the country to help stop the rebel advance, following a request from President Bozize.
“To our knowledge, neither the African Union nor the UN Security Council decided on a resolution authorizing Chad to go shoot Central Africans,” the statement said.
President Bozize took power originally with support from Chad President Idriss Deby and has called on Chad on several occasions to help fight off rebellions.
Reporting by Paul-Marin Ngoupana; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Stephen Powell