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CAR President Fires Defense Minister, Army Chief

 By Julius Odeke

Central African Republic President Francois Bozize has fired his son as defense minister and fired the army chief of staff, after a string of victories by rebel forces.

The firings were announced in a decree read over state radio Wednesday.  The decree said Bozize is taking the defense minister’s post for himself.

The dramatic move comes as the rebels seem poised to move on the capital.   A coalition of rebel groups known as Seleka captured several major towns and cities last month and is positioned less than 200 kilometers from the capital, Bangui.

Earlier Wednesday, a central African regional force created a buffer zone between the capital and the rebel stronghold of Sibut.  VOA correspondent Anne Look, who is in the CAR, reports that about 500
soldiers from Chad, Gabon and the Republic of Congo assembled Wednesday in the town of Damara reports according to Voice of America indicates.

The head of the regional force, General Jean Felix Akaga, warned the rebels Wednesday that to attack Damara would be a “declaration of war” against the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States.

He also said government troops are not to advance beyond Damara to attack the rebels.

Both the rebels and the CAR government have indicated they are ready for peace talks.  Regional leaders are trying to organize talks that would take place in Gabon on January 10.

In the capital Wednesday, supporters of President Bozize set up roadblocks and checked vehicles in the capital to stop a feared rebel incursion.  Rumors have been circulating in Bangui that the rebels are
trying to infiltrate the city.

President Bozize has led the Central African Republic since seizing power in a 2003 coup.

Seleka accuses him of failing to implement peace deals that ended an earlier rebellion, and is demanding that the president step down.

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