By Jean Rovys Dabany
LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Central African Republic's government and rebels agreed to the formation of a national unity government under a ceasefire deal on Friday to end an insurgency that swept to within striking distance of the capital.
The agreement, signed in Gabon's coastal capital after three days of negotiations mediated by regional neighbors, eases the biggest threat yet to President Francois Bozize's decade in charge of the minerals-rich former French colony.
"This is a good deal to bring peace," rebel spokesman Eric Massi told Reuters by telephone. "But the ceasefire is contingent on several of our demands being met and we will judge Mr. Bozize's sincerity in the coming days."
Massi said that among the Seleka rebel coalition's demands was the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of most of the foreign forces deployed to reinforce the country's military.
The deal also calls for the new transitional government to have a prime minister drawn from the opposition and for a parliamentary election to be held within 12 months.
Seleka launched its insurgency in early December, accusing Bozize of reneging on a 2007 peace deal supposed to provide jobs and money to insurgents who laid down their weapons.
The rebels had previously insisted that Bozize's resignation was a precondition for peace and that the president, who seized power in a Chadian-backed 2003 coup, should stand trial at the International Criminal Court.
Chad President Idriss Deby, who attended the signing ceremony, said the deal would allow Bozize to complete his mandate, which expires in 2016.
"We have not undermined the integrity of the constitution of Central African Republic. President Bozize was elected for a five-year term and he should carry on until that is finished," Deby told reporters.
Central African Republic is one of a number of countries in the region where U.S. Special Forces are helping local soldiers hunt down the Lord's Resistance Army, an unrelated rebel group that has killed thousands of civilians across four nations.
The country remains one of the least developed nations on the planet despite rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium.
(Additional reporting by Phal Gualbert Mezui Ndong in Libreville and Richard Valdmanis in Dakar; Writing by Daniel Flynn and Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Alison Williams)
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