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In Central African Republic, rebels halt their advance on capital, say they are ready to talk

NEW YORK — Rebel forces halted their advance on Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, on Wednesday and said they were prepared to enter into peace talks with the government.

The announcement, made by rebel spokesmen, heralded the possibility of a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has driven thousands of civilians from their homes and into the Central African forest, seeking refuge from the violence that has accompanied similar uprisings in recent years.

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President Francois Bozize has in recent days declared his willingness to negotiate, and peace talks are already being planned in nearby Gabon, though the government gave no official response to the rebels’ negotiation offer.

As a precondition to talks, the rebels have demanded that government forces stop arresting members of the Gula tribe, from which many rebels hail, said Colonel Djouma Narkoyo, a rebel spokesman. In negotiations, the rebels would insist upon the departure of Bozize, another spokesman said.

The rebels had been refusing peace talks just a few days ago. Their decision to change course may be linked to the arrival in the Central African Republic of troops from a coalition of neighboring countries, sent as reinforcements for Central African government forces.

A military officer who seized power in 2003, Bozize has since been elected president twice; the rebels say he has not given the north a voice in government and has failed to live up to the terms of peace agreements signed with rebels beginning in 2007.

Should the rebels press on with their offensive, they risk setting off a regional conflict, according to the commander of the multinational African force in the country.

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