A powerful Christian militia in Central African Republic said on Saturday it will only disarm once its main rivals, the Muslim Seleka fighters, lay down their weapons, a deadlock that risks prolonging the crisis in the war-torn country.
Globe & Mail The “anti-balaka” self-defence militia was formed last year to defend Christian communities targeted by Muslim Seleka forces who ousted the president in March, triggering cycles of revenge killings that continue to grip the country despite the deployment of thousands of foreign peacekeepers.
Seleka fighters have in recent weeks been forced out of power and scattered, mainly to the north. But Muslims who stayed behind have been targeted.
“We will lay down (our weapons) in the centre of town in front of the international community … only on the condition that these bandits are disarmed first,” Sebastien Wenezoui, spokesman for the “anti-balaka” force said on Saturday.
Wenezoui said that fighters from around Bangui, the crumbling capital that has seen hundreds of thousands of its residents forced from their homes by street battles and lynchings, would hand over all the weapons they owned.
At its peak, violence in Central African Republic displaced 1 million people, about a quarter of the country’s population.
Michel Djotodia, Seleka Muslim leader and interim president after the March rebel takeover, stepped aside last month under intense international pressure after failing to halt killings. He went into exile and his men withdrew to bases in the remote north, which borders Chad and Sudan.
France now has 1,600 soldiers operating alongside 6,000 African peacekeepers in its former colony. But foreign troops have struggled to halt attacks on Muslims caught in the void.
A top U.N. official warned of “ethnic-religious cleansing” as Muslim civilians fled north or into neighbouring countries, leaving the majority Christian population in the south.
“We are ready to live alongside Muslims that were born in our country but only on the condition that the government … holds a dialogue between the two communities,” Wenezoui said, highlighting tensions with Muslims who have come from neighbouring countries, especially Chad.