Central African rebels, government sign truce pact
By Christian Panika (AFP)
BANGUI — The Central African Republic on Sunday signed a ceasefire agreement with the last big active rebel group, paving the way for a peace deal and an end to years of conflict in the impoverished nation.
The Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) was the remaining rebel group that fought the government of President Francois Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 military coup and has since been re-elected.
"This ceasefire agreement means steps are undoubtedly being taken towards long-lasting peace," said Minister of Territorial Administration Josue Binou, who was present at the signing that took place at the defence ministry.
The eight-point ceasefire agreement was signed by junior Disarmament Minister General Xavier-Sylvestre Yangongo and the rebels' political advisor Mahamat Zakaria on behalf of CPJP leader Abdoulaye Hissene.
"The CPJP commits itself to lay down arms," said Zakaria, dismissing rumors of internal discord saying: "Those trying to give a different story are not doing so in CPJP's name."
Yangongo said: "The CPJP is a responsible rebel group, and we in the government are convinced that the CPJP will respect this agreement."
The ministry had said Thursday the government and the CPJP would sign a peace accord within a week.
Negotiations had taken place in the northern town of Ndele, where the CPJP agreed to enter the disarmament, demobilisation and social reintegration (DDR) campaign organised by Bangui and already signed by several other rebel groups.
The deal called for "the cessation of all hostilities, the abstention from any military acts and other forms of violence" and the barracking of CPJP forces until disarmament is under way.
The rebels, led by former government minister Charles Massi, announced in late April they were ready to stop fighting and engage in talks with the government "in order to end the suffering of the civilian population."
But Massi has since disappeared and is considered dead by his family as probably killed. Until the latest talks, the rebels had made clarifications from Bangui on Massi's fate a precondition for any peace negotiations.
The CPJP last November seized the main city of Birao in the north, killing six people and taking ten soldiers prisoners. The government was forced to ask Chad to retake the city a month later in violent clashes that claimed 65 rebel lives.
Noel Sandjima, a member of Bozize's National Convergence "Kwa na Kwa" party in CPJP stronghold Ndele, said the agreement was "a strong signal for a definite return to calm. The population can now go about their businesses."
However, some observers remained wary.
A foreign observer said on condition of anonymity that peace in the country "was far from being won," saying the military does not control even a third of the territory and the presence of Uganda's brutal Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group is a threat to security.
The LRA emerged in northern Uganda in the late 1980s, but has in recent years become a wandering band of criminals, moving in small groups around central Africa while looting and kidnapping young civilians.
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