Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - Central African Republic's former president Francois Bozize, who was overthrown in a 2013 rebellion, filed his candidacy for the country's December presidential election, his party's secretary-general told AFP on Monday.
Longtime Christian leader Bozize, whose ouster by rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka force triggered the country's worst post-independence crisis, lives in exile in an unknown location in Africa and faces an arrest warrant at home.
In 69-year-old Bozize's absence, "I received the order to go file his candidacy last Friday (December 27)," Kwa Na Kwa (KNK) party leader Bertin Bea said.
"We believe that Francois Bozize still has a national role to play. The pope (who visited the country on Monday) spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation, so that must be applied on all the children of this country," Bea added.
Wrapping up his first visit to the African continent, Pope Francis earlier Monday said Christians and Muslims were "brothers and sisters" in a country that has been rocked by sectarian hatred.
While Bouzize faces international sanctions that may prevent him from running, the secretary-general said "there is a time for reconciliation and a time for justice. It will be time to think about justice in two or three years' time."
Bozize has not yet stood trial and therefore still benefits from the presumption of innocence, he added.
Bozize was among the first leaders on both sides of the Central African conflict that erupted in 2013 to face UN sanctions.
In August, the government in Bangui said the international arrest warrant and sanctions that he has faced since May 2013 would be "obstacles" to him running for president in the general election set for December 27.
Julius Ngouade Baba, the general rapporteur of the National Electoral Authority (ANE), confirmed to AFP by phone that Bozize's candidacy had been registered.
The ANE now has eight days to examine the validity of the candidacies it has received, before the accepted submissions are sent to the transitional constitutional court, he added.
General elections were set under international pressure for December 27 after multiple delays linked to insecurity in the Central African Republic.
After a 10-year reign, Bozize's ouster in 2013 triggered a brutal conflict with tit-for-tat violence between the mainly Muslim Seleka and predominantly Christian "anti-balaka" militants claiming thousands of lives and displacing a quarter of the population.
The transition authority established after the Seleka were chased from power in a French-led military intervention in 2014 is struggling to get the country back on its feet after decades of unrest and oppression.
Bozize faces UN sanctions for supporting anti-balaka militia during the violence.