Central Africa frees prisoners, rebels reject olive branch

Central African Republic's President Francois Bozize on Wednesday ordered political prisoners in the country to be freed and a 10-week curfew to be lifted, giving in to rebel threats that they could resume fighting.

But the concessions were immediately rejected as insufficient by the Seleka rebel coalition.

The decree, read out on national radio, said "those arrested, detained and convicted from March 15, 2012 until this decree was signed are free," adding "the measure concerns political and war prisoners as mentioned in the Libreville (peace) accords".

The order does not include prisoners held "for murder, rape, embezzlement of public funds", nor does it cover those seen as a threat to national security or those in detention for "illegally carrying and using arms".

A second decree concerned the lifting of a curfew imposed on January 12.

"We're not there yet. It's not enough," Djouma Narkoyo, one of the rebel leaders told AFP after the announcements.

"We can still give him some time, but he has to mention his wish to bring peace," added Narkoyo, whose group also wants South African and Ugandan troops to leave the country and for rebels to be integrated into the army.

Earlier Wednesday, the rebels had said they would resume fighting after a deadline given to the government to meet their demands had expired.

Seleka launched a major offensive on December 10, bringing the rebels to the outskirts of the capital Bangui.

The January 11 peace deal led to the formation of a power-sharing government led by a member of the opposition, Nicolas Tiangaye.

However, the pact has remained fragile and hampered by mistrust, with the rebels threatening to pull out of the power-sharing deal if their demands are not met.

The rebels on Sunday declared they would not withdraw their fighters unless the government released political prisoners and foreign soldiers sent into the Central African Republic left the country.

Rebels also seized five ministers who joined the power-sharing government from rebel ranks and gave the government until Wednesday to fulfil their demands.

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Tiangaye appealed to the rebels to uphold the "spirit" of the peace deal, adding that a number of their demands had never been part of the agreement but that they would be put forward to Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is acting as a mediator in the conflict.

The prime minister had said he was ready to examine the release of prisoners and that a technical reshuffle of the government "could also be considered", but underscored that dialogue was the only solution to the country's crisis, in which he said 1.5 million people have been displaced.

"The civilian population is victim to severe human rights violations: assassinations, rapes, pillaging and theft," he said.

On Sunday the United States voiced concern about an uptick in violence in the unstable and deeply poor Central African Republic, after four soldiers were killed in a rebel attack on a southern town.