African Union sees 'positive' talks on CAR

Representatives from 14 militias in the strife-torn Central African Republic have held "positive" talks that could lead to negotiations with the government, the African Union (AU), acting as a mediator, said on Friday.

The "positive meeting in Bouar (in western Central African Republic) ended yesterday with a single document on demands, signed by the representatives of the 14 armed groups," Francis Che, a spokesperson for the AU panel in Central African Republic said.

The document will now be put to the government as "the basis for negotiations between the two sides," Che said.

The AU, supported by the UN and the Central African Republic's main partners, has been striving to set up negotiations between the militias and the government since July 2017 but progress has been scant.

The signed document contains 104 militia demands - seven more than they had put forward previously in draft form.

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However, five issues have been "put to one side" by the AU, including a demand by the groups for a general amnesty - something that NGOs have called a red line and which is opposed by the UN.

The Central African Republic exploded into violence following the 2013 overthrow of longtime leader Francois Bozize, a Christian, by majority-Muslim militias in a coalition called the Seleka.

France, the former colonial power, intervened to oust the Seleka and the UN deployed a peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, in 2014.

But President Faustin-Archange Touadera, elected in 2016, controls only a fraction of the country.

Most of the territory is overrun by armed groups, many of which claim to protect Christian or Muslim communities, and which often fight bloodily over resources.

Violence has led to thousands of deaths, while according to the UN, nearly 700 000 people have been internally displaced, 570 000 are refugees abroad and 2.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid.

The question of an amnesty is a major issue. The country has set up a special criminal court to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity since 2003, and several militia chiefs have been cited in UN investigations and others are named in international arrest warrants.

Seven peace agreements have been signed in the Central African Republic over the past half-dozen years but none have had a lasting effect.