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C. African rebels capture two more towns

BANGUI, Central African Republic: Rebels in the Central African Republic captured two more towns overnight, Territorial Administration Minister Josue Binoua told AFP yesterday.
“The rebels took two towns near Bambari,” a town already under the control of the Seleka rebel coalition, Binoua said. “This shows their intent to wage war even during negotiations.”
Earlier, rebels said they had not been informed about plans for peace talks that have the support of the United States and the UN Security Council.
Regional grouping the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) is hoping to host the talks involving rebels and President Francois Bozize’s government in Gabon from Tuesday.
The United States on Friday urged all sides in the conflict to seize the opportunity to reach a comprehensive peace deal.
And the UN Security Council renewed its demand that the rebels halt their advance on the capital and take part in the talks in “good faith.”
But Eric Massi, a spokesman for the rebels, said from Paris that they had not been informed about the CEEAC initiative.
“I’m not aware of that. This is the first I’ve heard of it. It’s incredible,” Massi told AFP.
His comments contradicted claims by CEEAC officials that the rebels had agreed to the talks in Libreville.
A CEEAC source earlier told AFP a delegation from the Seleka coalition of three rebel groups — supposedly including Massi — would arrive in Libreville today ahead of the planned meeting with representatives of the Central African Republic (CAR) government.
The rebels have repeatedly questioned Bozize’s sincerity in offering to form a government of national unity and called for him to leave power.
The president’s office said Friday that such a demand was impossible.
“It’s out of the question to negotiate on the departure of President Francois Bozize,” adviser Stanislas Mbamgot told AFP.
Seleka launched its offensive on Dec. 10 from the north and marched across much of the country before halting its push within striking distance of the capital, in the south.
The UN Security Council on Friday renewed its demand that the rebels stop advancing on the capital and take part in peace talks in “good faith.”
“The Security Council reiterated their demand that the Seleka coalition of armed groups cease all hostilities, withdraw from seized cities, and cease attempts to advance further,” said a statement released by the 15-nation body.
The council made a similar demand on Dec. 27 but Seleka forces have since moved closer to Bangui.
The latest statement expressed “concern” about rebel movements over the past week and reiterated the council’s “urgent call for an end to Seleka’s military offensive, and stressed that the current situation in CAR cannot be resolved militarily.”
The council gave strong backing to the proposed talks in Libreville.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was encouraging both the rebels and the government “to use this as an opportunity to really try to negotiate a comprehensive, inclusive, political resolution.”