Three-way peace talks between the Central African government, a rebel coalition that conquered much of the country over the past month and the political opposition began Wednesday in Gabon, an AFP correspondent reported.
The peace talks, brokered by regional bloc ECCAS, are due to focus on renegotiating peace agreements signed by Bangui since 2007 which rebels say have been violated, prompting them to unite and launch a major offensive last month.
The delegation representing the Seleka rebel coalition was more than two hours late at the talks, which are taking place in the Gabonese capital Libreville.
The group - an umbrella for several factions of rebel groups that had reached deals with the government in recent years - launched an offensive on December and soon took over most of the Central African Republic, an impoverished country of five million roughly the size of France.
Rebels moved southward towards Bangui but stopped around 100 miles from the capital after regional powers sent troops to bolster Central African President Francois Bozize's embattled army.
"I am asking all parties involved, especially the opposition and armed groups, to abide by the decision heads of state made in N'Djamena and focus their talks on the 2008 Libreville accords," Congolese Foreign Minister Basile Ikouebe, who is chairing the talks, said at the opening of the session.
The rebels are also demanding Bozize step down but the president, who took power in a 2003 coup, has warned he would not leave his job and Ikouebe urged his foes to "stick to African Union rules on regime change."