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Central African Republic preps for peace talks as regional troops arrive

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As the rebels snatched town after town, Mr. Bozize – who himself seized power in a coup in 2003 – quickly went from bullish to desperate, sacking his son as defense minister, promising to form a unity government with the rebels, and saying he would not stand for reelection.

That, though, may not be enough, and the rebels have called for Bozize, whom they accuse of excluding opposition groups and monopolizing power, to go immediately.

“We should expect those talks to drag on as the negotiations agenda still needs to be defined, ” says Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director at the International Crisis Group think tank. "Some issues such as the departure of the president raised by the rebels will be contentious and some of the parties may try to gain time."

Even if Bozize does eventually step down, the marriage of convenience between the rebels is shaky, and there is no guarantee that the alliance would not splinter.

Years of rebellion and lawlessness

More fundamentally, however, is that whatever the outcome of peace talks, they can do little to deal with the underlying problems in one of Africa's most impoverished and dysfunctional states.

Mineral-rich in theory but cripplingly poor in reality, CAR has been wracked by years of rebellions and lawlessness. Almost two-thirds of its 4.5 million inhabitants live below the poverty line.

Seen against that background, the deployment of hundreds of troops from South Africa, Chad and several of CAR's neighbors might be just a temporary solution.

While they will undoubtedly prove more robust than CAR's feeble national Army of only a few thousand troops, they can do little more than deter rebels from crossing a red line some 45 miles from Bangui, and may embolden Bozize to try a military counterstrike.

In the statement announcing the deployment, South Africa, which already had troops training the CAR Army, said the new troops would stay till 2018 and were there “in fulfilment of an international obligation of the Republic of South Africa towards the CAR.”

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