The African Union (A.U.) is prepared to deploy troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) if all efforts to stabilise the former French colony fail, said the A.U. Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra at a press conference on Friday.
Earlier this month, rebels organised under the banner of the Sekele Coalition advanced on Bangui, the capital of CAR, to overthrow President Francois Bozize, a military officer who seized power in 2003 and has since been elected President in 2005 and 2011.
On Thursday, Mr. Bozize called on the U.S. and France to provide military assistance to shore up his besieged government. France had already turned down the appeal.
“If we have a presence, it’s not to protect a regime,” said French President Francois Hollande, in a statement to Euronews, on Thursday.
“It is to protect our nationals and our interests and in no way to intervene in the internal business of a country, in this case the Central African Republic, those days are over.”
On Friday, in Addis Ababa, Mr. Lamamra said a meeting of regional Foreign Ministers was under way in Libreville, capital of Gabon, and efforts were being made to bring the rebels to the negotiating table. “Our preferred option, obviously, is for the political dialogue to succeed,” he said, pointing out that peacekeepers from the Economic Community of Central African States [Eccas] were already deployed in the country.
“If and when Eccas expresses the request to the A.U. that we should, from our end, mobilise from beyond the region, the A.U. is not only ready to engage into such an exercise but we have already taken some preparatory contexts to that effect,” he said.
One of Africa’s poorest and least developed countries, CAR has been in turmoil since its independence from France in 1960.
Most recently, in 2003, a rebel coalition, called the Union of Democratic Force of Unity (UFDR), opposed President Francois Bozize’s seizure of power, prompting an internal war. In 2007, the rebels and government signed a peace deal granting amnesty for the UFDR and providing for the integration of former rebels into the national armed forces.
The current conflict has its roots in the 2007 deal, with rebels contending that Mr. Bozize has failed to implement key provisions of the peace agreement, particularly the integration of fighters into the national army.
“This is not a new crisis,” said Mr. Lamamra, “There are a number of agreements that were undertaken to implement the agreements. Now there are shortcomings, there are problems of resources when it comes to integrating armed elements into armed forces but that doesn’t justify the resort to violence.”
A joint delegation of Eccas and the A.U. is expected to meet the rebel leaders on Friday to convince them to create an empowered delegation to negotiate a resolution to the conflict.