BANGUI — The president of the Central African Republic has fired his son as defense minister and assumed the post himself following the failure of the army to fight off rebels who have seized a third of the country.
A presidential decree read on state radio late Wednesday announced that President Francois Bozize is taking over the defense ministry from his son, Jean Francis Bozize, who served as deputy defense minister.
It was also announced that army chief Guillaume Lapo would be leaving his post.
During his New Year's Eve address to the nation, just two days earlier, President Bozize had condemned the failure of the army in the north, which allowed rebel fighters to seize a third of the territory in less than three weeks.
Speaking in the local Sango language, Bozize said he has always emphasized discipline and self-sacrifice to the army. He said the army failed in its mission to protect the population, leaving civilians to flee into the bush and live like animals.
Bozize -- a former army chief of staff himself -- now faces the greatest threat to his presidency since he seized power by military coup in 2003.
Residents of Bangui told VOA they don't see the point of this apparent overhaul of the military chain of command.
One resident says he worries it will just bring more instability to the armed forces. He says the president should not have taken on the role of defense minister himself but rather should appoint someone else. He says the president should know his own son and should never have put him in the post if he wasn't up to the job.
Opposition politician Henri Pouzere said the president's move is too little, too late.
Pouzere says the army has already retreated in the face of the rebels and allowed them to get to Sibut, 180 kilometers from the capital. Changing the leadership now won't do much, he says. He says the army needs to be completely rebuilt into one the people can trust and the president, as the country's top leader, is ultimately responsible for its recent failings.
500 Central African regional troops have mounted a buffer line at Damara, about 75 kilometers from the capital. The head of that regional force says further hostilities by either side will not be tolerated.
Both sides say they are ready to go to regionally mediated talks planned in Gabon's capital Libreville next week.
The rebel coalition Seleka unites fighters from as many as four insurgent groups from the north who say the government went back on 2007 and 2008 peace accords that were supposed to pay rebels to disarm or integrate them into the national army.
Seleka says President Bozize must step down.
President Bozize says he is willing to form a coalition government but will finish out his second elected term which ends in 2016.
Speaking to VOA, a spokesman for the political coalition that backs the president said a transition without Bozize would just bring more instability to the country.
The Central African Republic has been plagued by coup attempts, mutinies and rebellions since winning independence from France in 1960.
Jose Richard Pouambi contributed to this report in Bangui