AU Chief to hold talks with Bozize

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Addis Ababa, December 31, 2012 (WIC) - The head of the African Union is due to arrive in the Central African Republic for talks as rebel forces continue to advance towards the capital Bangui.

The AU says Thomas Boni Yayi will discuss the crisis with President Francois Bozize. Earlier, the Seleka rebel alliance entered the central city of Sibut after the army withdrew on Friday evening.

Regional leaders say both sides have agreed to hold talks, although no firm timetable has been given.

Mr Boni Yayi is expected to try to persuade President Bozize to launch a dialogue with the rebels. More troops from the Central African Multinational Force (Fomac) arrived in CAR on Saturday to reinforce a contingent already there.

More than 100 French paratroopers have also been sent in. However, France insists they are only there to secure its nationals - not to save the regime. A senior UN official told the BBC that all its international staff have been evacuated to neighboring Cameroon.

The US has also evacuated its embassy in Bangui. BBC says there was no fighting when rebels entered Sibut on Saturday. The city is about 150km (95 miles) from Bangui.

Government troops and Chadian soldiers deployed as a buffer force had left their position hours before and a rebel spokesman said they took over the city because it was abandoned.

The spokesman said the rebels had no intention to march on the capital ahead of talks meant to start early next month.

However, there is a growing fear that the rebels may well attempt to depose President Bozize. Government troops are reported to have fallen back to Damara, 75km from Bangui, the last major town on the road to the capital. Seleka - an alliance of three separate groups - accuses Mr Bozize of failing to honour a 2007 peace deal under which fighters who laid down their arms were meant to be paid.

According to ENA, the rebels have pledged to depose Mr Bozize unless he negotiates with them. They began their campaign a month ago and have taken several key towns and cities including Bambari and the diamond centre of Bria in their push towards the capital.

On Saturday, government officials confirmed that their forces' attempt to retake Bambari on Friday had been beaten back. In Bangui, residents have reported sharp rises in staple food prices as the rebels draw closer, according to BBC.