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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Dialogue coordination team meets rebel leaders

BANGUI, 5 March 2003 (IRIN) - The leader of the national dialogue coordination team of the Central African Republic (CAR), Bishop Paulin Pomodimo, held talks with leaders of the Coordination des patriotes centrafricains (CPC), an opposition alliance based in Paris) during a recent trip to Europe and the United States, according to Radio France International (RFI).

"I realised there were many converging points of view between what the rebels were saying and what we wish for [in] holding the national dialogue," Pomodimo told the government-owned Radio Centrafrique on return to the capital, Bangui, on Sunday.

RFI reported on Sunday that Pomodimo and his deputy, Henri Maidou, had met Karim Meckassoua, the CPC secretary-general. The CPC groups together all opposition leaders in exile, including the former CAR army chief of staff, Francois Bozize, whose troops have been fighting the government since October 2002.

Pomodimo told Radio Centrafrique that he would give more details of his trip after briefing President Ange-Felix Patasse. He did not indicate when he would brief the president.

Although Pomodimo and Maidou did not meet Bozize, they held talks with his envoys in Paris. Bozize, who was chief of staff until August 2001, has been living in exile in France since October 2002 when he was expelled from neighbouring Chad.

Government troops are currently driving Bozize's men out of most of the northern cities, which they had been occupying since October 2002.

"It is not on the military ground that we will settle the crisis that paralyses us," Pomodimo told the government radio.

Patasse announced plans for the national reconciliation dialogue on 25 November 2002 in a bid to end the rebellion. Analysts and the donor community regard the proposed dialogue as the best option for the CAR. Neither the venue nor the date of the talks has been fixed. While Patasse says the talks will take place in Bangui, both the internal opposition and those in exile demand that they be held in another country.

Those opposed to Patasse also demand a general amnesty and the withdrawal of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) combatants from the CAR. Based in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, the MLC troops have been backing the government army since October 2002.

The provisional budget for the national dialogue has been set at 750 million francs CFA (US $1.2 million).

Meanwhile, reporters of privately owned newspapers in Bangui on Monday went on strike in protest against the arrest and imprisonment of their colleague, Mathurin Momet, the publication director of Le Confident. Momet was arrested on 23 February, allegedly for having written anti-MLC articles. No newspaper was sold in Bangui on Monday.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict

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