Central African capital 'still a battlefield'

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Associated Press

Posted on February 1, 2014 at 9:03 AM

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Central African Republic's new premier warned Saturday that his nation's capital "remains a battlefield" where murderous mobs armed with machetes are slaughtering scores of civilians. He urged the international community to step up its aid to the beleaguered country.

Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke, speaking at a fundraising event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, praised the efforts of some 1,600 French troops and 5,000 African peacekeepers working to halt the violence between Christians and minority Muslims.

"But still Bangui remains a battlefield and this situation calls for more international engagement," he said.

The 54-nation African Union says it needs $409 million a year to sustain its peacekeeping operations in Central African Republic, a country the size of Texas where many roads have not been repaved since independence from France in 1960.

Brig. Gen. Martin Tumenta Chomou said Saturday that African peacekeepers now control a key town not far from the capital where hundreds of heavily armed rebels known as Seleka have amassed in recent days. Some had feared that the fighters would use the town of Sibut, 110 miles (180 kilometers) from Bangui, to launch another coup.

"All the Seleka troops were gathered together voluntarily without any fighting, and (peacekeeping) forces from Gabon are now setting up their positions in the town of Sibut," the general said. "It is clear that the Seleka fighters are now going to be disarmed, as is happening to others in Bangui."

The Seleka rebels united from different armed groups to overthrow the president of a decade in March 2013. Soon, thousands of heavily armed men who had descended on Bangui began looting and pillaging, and then attacking civilians.

Human rights groups say an untold number of people were killed by the mainly Muslim rebels. Anger over their rule led to the creation of an armed Christian militia called the anti-Balaka. Tensions exploded in December when several days of bloodshed left more than 1,000 dead. Seleka's leader, who had installed himself as president, then stepped aside under international pressure.

A new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, has been appointed to steer the country toward elections.

Brutal attacks continue daily, though, and Red Cross officials said this week at least 30 people have been killed in just three days.

Most violence in Bangui is directed at Muslim civilians accused of having collaborated with the Seleka government. In one particularly horrific attack, a crowd killed a Muslim shop owner while nearby French peacekeepers deliberated about what to do. By the time they fired warning shots, the man was dead.

In a broadcast on national radio Friday, the president warned such acts will not go unpunished.

"It is unacceptable that those acting in the names of anti-Balaka and Seleka continue to kill, pillage and steal," Samba-Panza said. "I will not tolerate any actions that compromise the political transition in process and destabilize the country."

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Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed to this report.

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Follow Krista Larson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/klarsonafrica.

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