African leaders yesterday began talks to tackle the sectarian violence wracking the Central African Republic (CAR), piling pressure on the country’s embattled president.
Rebel-turned-Central African President Michel Djotodia was summoned to Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, for the special summit to confront his failure to stem unprecedented sectarian violence tearing apart the resource-rich, but poor nation.
The meeting was convened by Chadian President Idriss Deby, who chairs a 10-nation regional organization and has long been a powerful influence over events in the neighboring CAR.
Djotodia and Central African Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengaye arrived on Wednesday for the gathering of leaders in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which has insisted that a “regime change” is not the goal of the summit.
The meeting was officially called to address Bangui’s failure to stem widespread bloodshed that has broken out between mainly Muslim former rebels and self-defense militias formed by the Christian majority.
ECCAS secretary-general Allami Ahmat said the CAR was in a “deplorable situation,” under “transitional authorities who have proven themselves incapable, powerless even, to solve the problem.”
French Minister of Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said African leaders would be taking “decisions” on the future of Djotodia.
“It is not France’s place to dictate decisions. We are here to offer support,” added Fabius, whose country last month deployed 1,600 troops alongside an African peacekeeping force in its former colony.
In Bangui, Central African Minister of Communications Cyriaque Gonda slapped down any talk of Djotodia’s departure, saying it would only worsen the crisis, though the former rebel has said he does “not want to stay in power.”
Delegations were to continue arriving in N’Djamena throughout yesterday, with talks expected to take place through the night today, Chadian sources said.
The CAR sank into chaos after rebels of the Seleka coalition ended former Central African president Francois Bozize’s 10-year rule in March last year and installed Djotodia as the first Muslim president in the overwhelmingly Christian country.
Djotodia has since officially disbanded the rebels, but has proven unable to stop them going rogue.
His former fighters went on killing, raping and pillaging, prompting Christians to form vigilante groups in response and sparking a deadly cycle of revenge attacks.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in the past month alone and nearly 1 million have been displaced since the coup.
A humanitarian disaster is also looming, with 100,000 evacuees crammed into a tent city near Bangui M’Poko International Airport, close to the peacekeepers’ bases.
In addition, UNICEF On Wednesday said it was racing to vaccinate 210,000 children displaced by the violence in Bangui, after at least seven cases of measles were confirmed.