Central African ex-leader Patasse comes home for peace talks

07/12/2008
Central African ex-leader Patasse comes home for peace talks

Former Central African Republic president Ange-Felix Patasse arrived here Sunday after five years in exile in Togo to participate in long-delayed peace talks in the troubled country.

"I have not come to judge but to find grounds for entente and to tackle the problems of the Central African Republic," Patasse told reporters upon his arrival in Banqui aboard an aircraft chartered by Gabon.Patasse thanked authorities -- including President Francois Bozize who toppled him from power in 2003 -- along with the country's citizens for allowing him to "participate in the dialogue of fraternity."

Originally slated for June, the talks that begin Monday are expected to last through December 20, and will include the government, opposition groups, rebels and members of the civilian population.

They represent "a sign... that there is a move towards understanding among Central Africans," said Patasse, who was met at the airport by the country's interior and communications ministers.

Elected president in 1993 and reelected five years later, Patasse was toppled in a coup in March 2003 by Bozize, his former chief of staff.

In 2006, the country's criminal court sentenced Patasse to 20 years of hard labour in absentia for forgery. But he was given amnesty in a law adopted in September, along with two leaders of a rebellion in the north.

One of the world's poorest countries, the Central African Republic has been racked by insecurity, with rebel groups, bandits and government troops blamed for widespread criminal activity.

The government signed four peace accords with rebel groups between February 2007 and June 2008, following mediation efforts by Gabon.

 

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