BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – Former Central African Republic President Francois Bozize insists he has returned from exile with peaceful intentions, even as concerns are growing that he will run in the upcoming presidential election.
Bozize, who came to power in a coup and ruled for a decade, was ousted by a coalition of rebel groups in 2013, leading to years of inter-communal conflict. Fears have grown in recent weeks about Central African Republic’s fragile political stability as Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader who ousted Bozize, also recently returned home.
In his first press conference Monday since returning in mid-December, Bozize said his party will decide on whether he is their candidate.
“As far as I am concerned, until proof to the contrary, nothing prevents me from being a candidate,” he told journalists. The election is set for December.
“I returned in a spirit of appeasement and search for peace, contrary to what some propaganda has tried to be spread in recent days,” he added.
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The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Bozize the year after his ouster, accusing the former leader of “engaging in or providing support for acts that undermine the peace, stability or security of CAR.”
Bozize has called for those sanctions to be lifted and said he believes he can run again for office either way.
The former president still has numerous supporters in the capital, Bangui, who recall his rule as a more peaceful era than the violence that followed his ouster. Rebels who still control large swathes of the country, though, would deeply oppose his return to politics.
The former president on Monday again denied playing a role in the bloodshed that erupted in December 2013, distancing himself from the militia known as the anti-Balaka that tried to overthrow the mostly Muslim rebel coalition known as Seleka that ousted him from power.
“I’ve always said that the anti-Balaka movement happened after me. The result was that the country was set on fire and blood,” he said. “It was not me who convened the Seleka in the Central African Republic. It was not me who crossed the red line. Let it be clear.”