JOHANNESBURG – Opposition forces in the Central African Republic who took control of a large swath of the country in recent weeks have succeeded in forcing President Francois Bozize’s government to share power, officials said Friday.
In a deal averting a battle for control of Bangui, the capital, Bozize and the opposition agreed to a coalition government during peace talks in Libreville, the Gabon capital.
Chad’s foreign minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who attended the talks, released a statement announcing the peace agreement. He said that under the deal a prime minister would be appointed from the opposition and Bozize would complete his term in 2016.
The rebel group, called Seleka, meaning “alliance” in the local language, began an offensive Dec. 10, threatening to oust Bozize and seizing about a dozen key towns with little resistance from government troops.
The alliance claimed the government had reneged on peace agreements to resolve a war that broke out after Bozize seized power in a coup in 2003. Bozize won presidential elections in 2005 and 2011.
The Central African Republic, with a population of around 5 million, is rich in minerals, yet most people live on less than two dollars a day. The country has seen little peace and stability since independence from France in 1960, plagued by decades of misrule, corruption, coups, uprisings and rebellions.
Militias run rampant in many parts of the country, often recruiting children. The Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, is also believed to be hiding in the Central African Republic.
The talks were brokered by the regional Economic Community of Central African States. The African Union has been involved in efforts to prevent a coup or a battle for control of Bangui. The African Union threatened to suspend and isolate the country if the rebels took power.
The AU favors unity government deals to resolve disputes over power or elections, a formula aimed at avoiding bloodshed. But the compromises often leave governments paralyzed for years.
Critics say the underlying issues of the conflict are often left unresolved in such arrangements, and may fester and burst forth later. The agreements also give rebel militias a strong motive to stage uprisings and seize towns and territory, critics say.
The rebellion in the Central Africa Republic came from militia forces that had been merged into the national army but remained critical of the government.
In neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo last year, a rebel group called M23, also comprising militias disillusioned after having been absorbed into the national army, staged an uprising and forced the government to agree to peace talks, after taking control of Goma, the largest town in the east of the country. The rebels withdrew, under intense international pressure, two weeks after taking the town.