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African Leaders Call for Ending Conflict in CAR - 2001-11-28

African leaders are calling on all sides in the conflict in the Central African Republic to resolve their differences. The call for peace follows the outbreak of heavy fighting in recent days between the army and mutinous soldiers loyal to former army chief Francois Bozize.

Fearing that the conflict may spread, leaders in the region are pressing for a rapid resolution to the conflict in the Central African Republic. They are scheduled to meet for discussions at a summit on Monday in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Central African Republic President Ange Felix Patasse has agreed to take part in the talks, which are to include leaders of Chad, Gabon and Sudan, as well as representatives of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity.

The announcement that Mr. Patasse would be attending the talks came late Tuesday following reports of continued fighting this week in northern CAR between the Libyan-backed army and mutinous soldiers.

The unrest follows the firing last month of army chief General Francois Bozize, who only a few weeks ago was considered to be a close friend and political ally of President Patasse.

The Central African leader removed General Bozize from his post on October 26 after the government linked the general to a violent coup attempt in May. On November 2, a standoff erupted between government forces and mutinous soldiers loyal to General Bozize when the government tried to apprehend the general for refusing to answer a summons to appear. The general fled to neighboring Chad on November 7.

Last week, reports from northern CAR near the Chadian border said pro-Bozize soldiers had battled Central African army forces supported by Libya. Reports said the mutinous soldiers captured two towns in the north, where heavy fighting continued into Monday. The CAR government claims its soldiers recaptured the towns and sent the mutinous fighters fleeing to Chad.

General Bozize, who was considered to be very popular among members of the army, has denied any involvement in the May 28 coup attempt. The general had been credited with suppressing an effort in May to topple the Patasse government.

Observers say the Patasse government appears to have become increasingly fragile following the May coup attempt. The government crackdown that followed the coup has continued to raise tensions between northerners who support President Patasse and southerners who oppose him.

The Patasse government has been pushing for Chad to hand over General Bozize. But Chadian officials say they consider the general a political refugee and have not moved to extradite him to Bangui.

General Bozize has been in the southern Chad city of Sarh, where witnesses say he is staying in a villa usually reserved for honored guests of the Chadian government.