LIBREVILLE: President Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic Tuesday refused to consider his resignation as demanded by rebels who have sent delegates to Gabon for peace talks.
“I don’t need to negotiate [my departure],” he said in response to a question at a news conference in the Central African capital Bangui on whether he was prepared to accept rebel demands.
“Does the rebellion represent the Centrafrican people? I don’t need to negotiate the position of head of state,” Bozize added, calling the rebels “terrorist mercenaries.”
The rebels have seized a string of key towns in the last month and have come within striking distance of Bangui.
The rebel offensive has raised international alarm of a prolonged conflict engulfing the mineral-rich, impoverished country known for coups.
Delegations representing the government, opposition and insurgents gathered in the capital of Gabon ahead of the negotiations, which have the blessing of regional powers, the United Nations and the United States.
The government and opposition delegations landed in Libreville Tuesday, a day after the rebels.
The talks are expected to officially start sometime this week.
Ministers from the regional grouping the Economic Community of Central African States, which will host the Libreville talks, also sat down for a meeting Tuesday. In a brief statement the regional bloc evoked “the complexity of the task” ahead of them.
Ahead of the talks, rebel leader Michel Djotodia hinted that the insurgents could be flexible on their demand for Bozize to go.
“I am not the one who will make Bozize step down,” Djotodia told AFP en route to Libreville Monday. “There is a coalition and also a democratic opposition that is there.
“We will come together a little later and see what should be done,” he said. “We cannot wage war without seeking peace and vice versa.”