N’DJAMENA (Reuters) - A rebel leader in Central African Republic, who declared an autonomous state in territory under his control this month, said on Tuesday he has dropped his opposition to pivotal elections set for this weekend.
Noureddine Adam, who heads the FPRC faction of the former Seleka rebel coalition, had been dubbed “enemy number one” by the government, which had called for his arrest over his attempts to block the polls.
If followed through upon, the about-face, announced following days of talks in neighbouring Chad, would remove a major obstacle to presidential and legislative elections on Sunday seen as a crucial to ending years of bloodshed.
“Our movement pledges to offer its positive and sincere contribution ... so (elections) can be held in calm, serenity, without violence and with strong citizen participation,” read the statement distributed by Chad’s presidency, which participated in the talks.
Adam was second-in-command of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition, which seized power in the majority Christian nation in early 2013, toppling then-president Francois Bozize.
Their abuses sparked reprisals by Christian anti-balaka militias, plunging the former French colony into a cycle of inter-religious violence that has killed thousands and led to de facto partition.
Bozize, who has lived in exile mainly in Uganda since he was deposed, saw his candidacy for the election rejected by the constitutional court earlier this month.
He still has support among many Central Africans however, particularly in the southwest. And on Tuesday his Kwa Na Kwa (KNK) party threw its support behind the candidacy of Anicet-Georges Dologuele, a move likely to significantly bolster the former prime minister’s chances.
“We are going to do what we can so that you win the election in the first round,” said KNK secretary general Bertin Bea. “You have the support of the party, the support of activists and the support of President Francois Bozize.”
The government that succeeded Bozize issued an international warrant for his arrest, accusing him of crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide during his decade in power, allegations he rejects. He is also subject to a United Nations travel ban and asset freeze.
“With this agreement, you join in the possibility of returning to the management of power,” Dologuele told Kwa Na Kwa members following the announcement of the deal.
Elections in Central African Republic have faced repeated delays. A constitutional referendum - the first step in a process of holding presidential and legislative elections to restore democratic rule following two successive transitional governments - was held on Dec. 13.
Some 93 percent of voters cast ballots in favour of the new constitution, paving the way for the polls, though turnout was just 38 percent, the elections commission said on Tuesday.
Around one in five Central Africans have fled violence in the country which is rich in diamonds, uranium and gold - assets coveted by the rival factions as well as foreign interests. The fighting began as clashes between rival militias and degenerated into a conflict between Christians and Muslims.
Additional reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette and Sebastien Lamba in Bangui; Writing by Makini Brice and Joe Bavier; Editing by