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Africa

Rebels halt advance in CAR, agree to talks

The president of the Central African Republic has fired his son as defense minister, along with the army chief of staff. The move comes as rebels claim to have stopped moving on the capital in order to start peace talks.

The Central African Republic's controversial leader Francois Bozize dismissed his top officials, including his own son, on Wednesday after criticizing the army for failing to halt a rebel advance that has pushed government soldiers back to within 45 miles (75 kilometres) of the capital Bangui.

The announcement via state radio said the president's son, Jean-Francis Bozize, and Chief of Staff Gen. Guillaume Lapo were no longer in their posts.

Meanwhile, the Seleka rebels, who accuse Bozize of reneging on a previous peace deal, said on Wednesday that they had halted their advance on Bangui and agreed to engage in peace talks.

Leaders urge diplomacy

The United Nations is calling for both sides of the conflict to open a dialogue and have offered to help organize the talks.

"We continue to follow the situation with serious concern," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said."We are calling on both the government and the rebels to focus on dialogue that can avert violence and lead to a peaceful resolution."

The United States, the European Union and France have called on both sides to negotiate in order to spare civilian lives.

According to diplomatic sources, peace talks are planned for January 8 in Gabon's capital, Libreville, but no date has been confirmed by either side of the conflict.

'Bozize may have to go'

In the last three weeks, the Seleka rebels have seized many key towns and are now positioned within striking distance of the capital.

The Seleka rebellion, comprised of a group of mostly northeastern rebel groups, is just the latest in a series of attempted revolts since the Chad-backed insurgency brought Bozize to power in 2003.

While the rebels have shown a willingness to engage in dialogue, they have not ruled out a need to oust Bozize. Rebel fighters told Reuters on Wednesday they may insist on Bozize's removal in the upcoming talks.

"I have asked our forces not to move their positions starting today because we want to enter talks in Libreville for a political solution," said Selekaspokesman Eric Massi, speaking by telephone from Paris.

"I am in discussion with our partners to come up withproposals to end the crisis, but one solution could be a political transition that excludes Bozize," he said.

tm/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)