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'Party over' in C. Africa as troops return to barracks

14 january 2014, 15:59
0
The new interim president of the violence-wracked Central African Republic told marauding fighters Monday that "the party is over" after weeks of deadly sectarian violence, as deserting troops and police returned to duty, AFP reports.

Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, speaker of the impoverished country's provisional parliament and interim president, vowed that the "anarchy" that has gripped the country would be swiftly brought to an end.

And he sternly admonished warring militiamen from the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group and the "anti-balaka" Christian fighters set up to oppose them.

"To the ex-Seleka, to the anti-balaka and the lovers of looting, I'm giving you a severe warning: The party is over," he said at a police headquarters in the capital, Bangui.

Nguendet, whose parliament has been charged with finding a new transitional president within two weeks from Saturday, declared: "The chaos is over, the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over."

Those who do not return to barracks "will be considered deserters and treated as such," he added.

The return of hundreds of soldiers and police to duty was an encouraging sign for the Central African Republic after weeks of horrific sectarian violence, including reports of cannibalism.

The soldiers, many of whom had fled their units into the bush for fear of being killed, heeded an order to return to barracks by Monday.

Similar centres have opened in Bangui for police to register after many of them deserted too in the chronically unstable country.

Nguendet said the police, completely absent from the streets of Bangui in recent weeks, would be "redeployed within 72 hours and would take part in the disarmament process" under way in the city.

'The hate is still there'

Nguendet's speech came the day after scenes of reconciliation in the southern Bangui neighbourhood of Bimbo as rival fighters struck a truce and embraced.

Ten months of violence have displaced a fifth of the country's population of 4.6 million people, and the sectarian flare-up has killed more than 1,000 people in the past month alone, despite a French military intervention and the presence of an African peacekeeping force, MISCA.

France has deployed 1,600 troops in the country to support MISCA, which is meant to have up to 6,000 troops but has not yet reached 3,500.

"It is a shame for the nation to see the security of the people of Central Africa entrusted to regional and international organisations," Nguendet said.

The UN special representative to the Central African Republic said he was optimistic about a quick resolution of the crisis.

Speaking to reporters by teleconference from Bangui, Babacar Gaye said "the hope lies on the reinforcement of MISCA, on the continued engagement of France and the swift election of a head of state of the transition."

But he warned that "the hate is still there... and the next government will have to start reconciliation between the communities."

The provisional parliament was due to begin consultations on Tuesday with politicians and civil society members in a bid to elect a successor to former president Michel Djotodia, who resigned Friday under international pressure.

Djotodia, the first Muslim leader in the majority-Christian nation, had come under fire for failing to rein in the rebels who brought him to power in March 2013 and whose abuses triggered retaliatory violence by Christian militias.

The new president will inherit a country in turmoil with a climate of sectarian hatred, nearly a million people displaced, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, a paralysed government administration and an economy in chaos.

He will have little time to perform miracles; the timetable for the transition calls for general elections to be held no later than the first half of 2015.

But France, the country's former colonial ruler, wants elections to be held as early as the end of 2014.

According to political sources on the ground, there were likely to be around 10 candidates, with Nguendet himself possibly featuring as one of the favourites.

Pope Francis on Monday, speaking to the Vatican diplomatic corps, decried the "devastation and death" in the Central African Republic.

South Africa said leaders from Africa's Great Lakes region are due to discuss the Central African crisis at a summit Wednesday in Angola.

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