BANGUI, Central African Republic – The embattled president of Central African Republic on Tuesday accused the rebels who have seized the northern half of the country of being backed by "foreign terrorists" and said he was heading to this week's peace talks to defend democracy.
President Francois Bozize, who himself took power in 2003 following a rebellion, has offered to form a coalition government with the rebels. Some fighters, though, insist they will not join the government unless he steps down.
Bozize told journalists Tuesday that if the rebels come to this week's peace talks in Gabon with something positive to say, he is prepared to hear it.
"If the terrorists come to talk terrorism, the whole world will know it," he said. "If they come to discuss defending the cause of Central African Republic, we are going to listen to them. If there is something positive, we will accept it. If it's armed robbery, we will not accept it."
Rebel leaders and the delegation representing Bozize's government already have arrived in Gabon. The rebels of the Seleka alliance come from four separate groups that have now joined forces against Bozize's government.
On Tuesday, the president again accused outside forces of aiding the rebels and said "there is a risk that a religious cause is behind Seleka."
He said it appeared there were Janjaweed, or fighters from neighboring Sudan, along with "people who don't speak Sango, French or even English" from beyond the country's borders.
"Foreign terrorists are attacking the established power in Central African Republic. Under those circumstances, I am proud of having served my country normally, that democracy is functioning normally," he said during the press conference at the presidential palace.
While Bozize's government has faced previous rebellions, this latest joint offensive has posed the gravest threat to his rule during his nearly 10 years in power.