N’DJAMENA (Reuters) - African heads of state on Wednesday refused to recognize rebel leader Michel Djotodia’s self-appointment as president of Central African Republic, calling instead for the creation of a new transitional body to guide the country to elections.
The decision, taken at a summit of leaders from the central African region, further isolates Djotodia, who led thousands of insurgents into the former French colony’s crumbling riverside capital Bangui on March 24, ousting President Francois Bozize.
“It seems impossible to us to recognize a man who has appointed himself,” Chadian President Idriss Deby said following the summit in Chad’s capital N’djamena.
Deby led troops into the Chadian capital and seized power in 1990. He has won four elections since then. Bozize himself seized power in Central African Republic in 2003.
African and Western leaders have already condemned the rebellion in the mineral-rich but chronically unstable nation. The African Union suspended Central African Republic and imposed sanctions on Djotodia while Washington said he was not a legitimate leader.
Djotodia has already tried to contain international condemnation by creating a transitional government headed by a civilian prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, and promising elections in three years.
A spokeswoman for Djotodia said earlier she hoped the new leadership in Bangui would get regional backing.
“What we want is support from the African Union and ECCAS (the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States) for all of our plans to restore peace in the country ... We need legitimacy,” said Anne Victoire Yakossobe.
But Deby said the summit had instead called for the creation of a transitional institution that would draw up a new constitution and prepare for elections within 18 months.
“We have in mind a college, a sort of executive that will be elected by all the social actors. This college will designate its president, which will be the president of Central African Republic,” Deby said.
The decisions of the summit were greeted with cautious optimism by Central African Republic’s political opposition, which has rejected the new government, saying it is stacked with Djotodia allies.
“We are waiting for the (regional) ministers to come explain the mechanisms that will be put in place. We want to know how this is going to work on the ground,” opposition spokesman Edouard Kouyamounou told Reuters.
Though organized by regional states, the summit included a delegation led by South African President Jacob Zuma, who is under growing pressure at home following the deaths of 13 South African soldiers during the March 24 onslaught.
The withdrawal of South African forces, in the country under agreements with Bozize, had been a demand of the rebels during peace talks with the government in Gabon earlier this year.
However Pretoria sent reinforcements to Bangui as the rebellion built up last month.
Those soldiers will now return home, Deby said.
“President Jacob Zuma announced to us his decision to withdraw South African troops, who had come to Central African Republic in the framework of a cooperation agreement,” he said.
The killing of its soldiers has prompted questions about South African’s role in the country, and how a military training mission there became entangled in an internal conflict.
South African media reports have suggested the soldiers were defending South African mining interests, but officials in Pretoria have denied this. They say the presence of the 400 South African troops was covered by a 2007 bilateral defense accord with Bozize.
Additional reporting by Ed Cropley and Ange Aboa; Writing by Richard Valdmanis and Joe Bavier; Editing by Andrew Heavens