By Madjiasra Nako
N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Rebels who seized power in Central African Republic should consider holding elections in one year not three to speed up the return to democratic rule, a senior official from the African Union said on Wednesday.
African leaders including South African President Jacob Zuma are meeting in Chad's capital N'Djamena to hash out a regional response to the coup.
Thousands of insurgent fighters, who accused the government of failing to honor past peace agreements, stormed Central African Republic's crumbling riverside capital Bangui on March 24, ousting ex-president Francois Bozize.
African and Western leaders have so far condemned the rebellion in the mineral-rich former French colony. The African Union suspended Central African Republic and imposed sanctions on rebel chief Michel Djotodia while Washington said he was not a legitimate leader.
But officials at the emergency summit in Chad said heads of state there would be deciding whether they ought to find ways to work with Djotodia, who has proclaimed himself president, or isolate him further.
Djotodia has already tried to contain international condemnation by creating a transitional government headed by civilian Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye and promising elections in three years.
"The best transitions are those that are short," the African Union's commissioner for peace and security Ramtane Lamamra, told Reuters ahead of the closed-door meeting.
"There have been other examples in Africa where just a year was needed to return to constitutional order. We think this is possible, but it is left to the Central Africans to decide," Lamamra said.
"WE NEED LEGITIMACY"
The country's opposition has rejected the new government, saying it is stacked with Djotodia allies.
Tiangaye, the man just named as prime minister, is expected to attend the N'Djamena summit while Djotodia remains in Central African Republic.
A spokeswoman for Djotodia said she hoped the new leadership in Bangui would get regional backing.
"What we want is support from the African Union and ECCAS (the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States) for all of our plans to restore peace in the country ... We need legitimacy," said Anne Victoire Yakossobe.
The summit is being held by ECCAS and includes a delegation led by South Africa's Zuma.
Pretoria sent soldiers to join a regional peacekeeping force in the country as the rebellion built up - and at least 13 of its soldiers were killed during the March 24 onslaught.
The killings prompted questions about South African's role in the country, and how a military training mission there became entangled in an internal conflict.
South African media reports have suggested the soldiers were defending South African mining interests, but officials in Pretoria have denied this. They say the presence of the 400 South African troops was covered by a 2007 bilateral defense accord with Bozize.
(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley and Ange Aboa; Writing by Richard Valdmanis and Bate Felix; Editing by Andrew Heavens)