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Central African Republic Ruler Gathers Delegates for 'National Dialogue' - 2003-09-09

What is being called a National Dialogue is getting underway in the Central African Republic. Delegates to the forum hope to negotiate an end to the political and military crises that have gripped the country since 1996.

The leader of the Central African Republic, General Francois Bozize, has called together 350 delegates for the National Dialogue.

The general seized power through a coup d'etat in March of last year, after years of political and military instability. His transitional government has promised to hold presidential elections in December of next year.

Despite the large number of participants attending the national dialogue, two key figures are not likely to make an appearance. They are former presidents Ange Felix Patasse, whom General Bozize ousted last year, and the previous president, General Andre Kolingba.

Former-president Patasse has been excluded from the national dialogue by the ruling transitional government, which has indicted him for war crimes and embezzlement.

According to Mr. Patasse, who is in exile in Togo, the indictment is a ruse to exclude him from participating in the National Dialogue. The political party that Mr. Patasse headed has withdrawn from the talks in protest.

Mr. Patasse's predecessor, General Kolingba, is currently in exile in Uganda, and it is not clear whether he will be returning for the talks.

The Central African Republic has suffered years of instability. Coups and counter-coups have wrecked the political and economic environment. Although it is endowed with abundant natural resources that include diamonds, gold, oil, and timber the country remains impoverished.