Rebels in the poverty-stricken Central African Republic have been advancing on the capital for three weeks, but today they agreed to halt and begin peace talks, Reuters reports. They had come within striking distance of Bangui, causing the US to close its embassy in the country and evacuate its citizens. The rebels accuse President Francois Bozize of doing an about-face on a peace deal, and say they may still insist he leave office as part of their peace terms. But Bozize says that the one non-negotiable in the talks is an early end to his term, which runs to 2016, reports the AP. (It notes that the US says his 2011 election win was "widely viewed as severely flawed.")
A spokesperson for rebel group Seleka says it wants "a political solution" rather than a clash with regional troops. And "one solution could be a political transition that excludes Bozize," he adds. Talks could begin Jan. 10, according to sources. The US, the EU, and France have been calling for negotiations, and members of the central African regional bloc ECCAS sent hundreds of troops last month to bolster the army.