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Conflict

Central African coup leader promises elections

The leader of a coup in the Central African Republic has said elections will be held, but that it will take two to three years. He further pledged to form a transparent interim government amid international criticism.

Rebel coalition chief Michel Djotodia (pictured above) on Monday said he would name a power-sharing government in an effort to defuse international condemnation of the coup. South Africa announced that 13 of its soldiers had been killed in the fighting.

Some 5,000 Seleka fighters took hold of the capital, Bangui, on Sunday after a swift offensive that followed the unraveling of a peace accord signed with the government of deposed President Francois Bozize.

Central African rebels storm capital

As Bozize fled to neighboring Cameroon, Djotodia declared himself president. The rebel leader told the broadcaster Radio France Internationale that he intended to hold "free and transparent" elections within three years.

The time limit would be in accordance with an agreement signed between the rebels and government in Libreville, the capital of regional neighbor Gabon.

"I can consider myself to be, at this moment, head of state," said Djotodia. "There is insecurity ... It was said in Libreville that we should respect the three year timeline for organizing free and transparent elections. We won't stay any longer."

The January deal had brought figures from Seleka, a loose alliance of rebel movements, into the government. The deal collapsed after the government did not comply with a Seleka demand for the release of people they termed "political prisoners."

In Paris, the president of one of those groups, Revolution for Democracy, on Monday said he did not acknowledge Djotodia as president. Group leader Nelson N’Jadder said members of the Seleka coalition had agreed to take the presidential palace before announcing a ceasefire and elections within 18 months.

UN reports looting

There was further concern on Monday as looters, including members of the Seleka forces overran Bangui.

Among the properties raided were UN offices and employees' homes, a spokesman for the international body said on Monday, ahead of a meeting of the Security Council.

The situation in the capital remained tense, said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. "It seems from our assessment so far that there is still some gunfire and that there is still some looting in Bangui," Nesirky told reporters. "Several United Nations offices and residences of staff members, both national and international, have been looted."

The power grab was condemned by former colonial power France, with Paris urging a constitutional solution. "There is a new president, self-proclaimed in a totally unconstitutional way and the question we are all asking is how to come back to a constitutional situation, how to have elections as quickly as possible," said France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud.

The US also condemned the use of force to oust Bozize, but stopped short of calling for him to be reinstated.

rc/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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