Rebels in the Central African Republic said they had halted their advance on the capital and have agreed to start peace talks, averting a clash with regionally backed troops in the mineral-rich nation.

The Seleka rebels had pushed to within striking distance of Bangui after a three-week onslaught and threatened to oust President Francois Bozize, accusing him of reneging on a previous peace deal and cracking down on dissidents.

The rebel announcement only gave the leader a limited reprieve as the fighters said they might insist on his removal in the negotiations.

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"I have asked our forces not to move their positions starting today, because we want to enter talks in [Gabon's capital] Libreville for a political solution," said a Seleka spokesman.

"I am in discussion with our partners to come up with proposals to end the crisis, but one solution could be a political transition that excludes Bozize," he added.

The rebel advance was the latest in a series of revolts and coups in the country. The US, the European Union and France have called on both sides to negotiate and spare civilians.

News of the halt eased tensions in Bangui, where residents had been stockpiling food and water.