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Central African Republic signs peace deal with rebels

Supporters of the Central African Republic's President François Bozizé cheer for soldiers as they follow the presidential convoy heading for the airport in Bangui January 10, 2013, as he leaves for Gabon's capital of Libreville to attend talks between his government, the democratic opposition and Seleka, the Central African rebels alliance. Banner reads, "No to war, we want peace."


Central African Republic's government and rebels agreed to the formation of a national unity government under a ceasefire deal on Friday to end an insurgency that swept to within striking distance of the capital.

The agreement, signed in Gabon's coastal capital after three days of negotiations mediated by regional neighbours, eases the biggest threat yet to President François Bozizé's decade in charge of the minerals-rich former French colony.

"This is a good deal to bring peace," rebel spokesman Eric Massi told Reuters by telephone. "But the ceasefire is contingent on several of our demands being met and we will judge Mr. Bozizé's sincerity in the coming days."

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Mr. Massi said that among the Seleka rebel coalition's demands was the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of most of the foreign forces deployed to reinforce the country's military.

The deal also calls for the new transitional government to have a prime minister drawn from the opposition and for a parliamentary election to be held within 12 months.

Seleka launched its insurgency in early December, accusing Mr. Bozizé of reneging on a 2007 peace deal supposed to provide jobs and money to insurgents who laid down their weapons.

The rebels had previously insisted that Mr. Bozizé's resignation was a precondition for peace and that the President, who seized power in a Chadian-backed 2003 coup, should stand trial at the International Criminal Court.

Chad President Idriss Déby, who attended the signing ceremony, said the deal would allow Mr. Bozizé to complete his mandate, which expires in 2016.

"We have not undermined the integrity of the constitution of Central African Republic. President Bozizé was elected for a five-year term and he should carry on until that is finished," Mr. Déby told reporters.

Central African Republic is one of a number of countries in the region where U.S. Special Forces are helping local soldiers hunt down the Lord's Resistance Army, an unrelated rebel group that has killed thousands of civilians across four nations.

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The country remains one of the least developed nations on the planet despite rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium.

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