- Former Central African Republic President Ange-Félix Patassé has arrived in Bangui after five years in exile in Togo to participate in long-delayed peace talks in the troubled country. Mr Patassé today participated in a national peace forum.
"I have not come to judge but to find grounds for entente and to tackle the problems of the Central African Republic," Mr Patassé told reporters upon his arrival in Bangui aboard an aircraft chartered by Gabon. The ex-President thanked authorities - including President François Bozizé 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 began today are expected to last until 20 December, and 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 Mr Patassé, who was met at the Bangui's M'Poko airport by the Central African ministers of the Interior and Communications.
Mr Patassé said he hoped "to find common ground and address the problems of the Central African Republic." He further said he expected an "inclusive political dialogue" at the Bangui forum.
Elected president in 1993 and re-elected five years later, President Patassé was toppled in a coup in March 2003 by General Bozizé, his former chief of staff. He fled to Togo, where he was given political asylum. Mr Patassé on several occasions has been accused by the Bozizé regime of being in contact with rebel groups in the Central African Republic and of heading subversive operations from his exile home.
In 2006, the country's criminal court sentenced Mr Patassé 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, to allow for the current peace forum to take place.
Under President Patassé's rule, the Central African Republic enjoyed relatively few armed conflicts, but he was unable to bring economic and political stability to the country. Under the current leader, political rights have been limited and as consequence of the nearby Darfur conflict, warfare has returned to the country.
With increasing instability, also the seeds of economic development registered in the landlocked country are being reversed. The Central African Republic has become increasingly reliable on humanitarian aid to avoid a major crisis. Government was increasingly under donor pressure to hold peace talks with all implicated parties.
One of the world's poorest countries, the Central African Republic has been racked by insecurity, with rebel groups supported by Sudan, 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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