The commander of French troops in the Central African Republic on Monday accused a militia known as the anti-balaka of being the country’s “main enemy of peace” to be treated as outlaws and thugs.
The mainly Christian vigilantes have been accused of brutal attacks against Muslims after the ouster of former Central African Republic president Francois Bozize in March last year by mainly Muslim rebels led by Michel Djotodia, who was himself forced out last month after failing to end the sectarian violence.
“Those who call themselves ‘anti-balaka’ have become the main enemy of peace in the Central African Republic,” General Francisco Soriano said in a meeting in Bangui with the impoverished country’s religious leaders, accusing the militia of inciting violence by “stigmatizing” certain areas as Muslim.
The remarks came the day after a member of the country’s transitional parliament, Jean-Emmanuel Ndjaroua, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in the capital blamed on the anti-balaka.
Ndjaroua had condemned violence against the Muslim residents of his district in parliament on Saturday.
He was among a dozen people killed in sectarian clashes since Friday.
The ongoing violence has prompted thousands of minority Muslims to flee fearing attacks at a time when the country’s judicial system is paralyzed.
“It is impunity that drives this cycle of violence,” lawmaker Fernand Mande Ndjapou said. “Someone kills a member of your family, but the killers are not worried at all.”
Soriano said that nothing is known about the anti-balaka’s chain of command, its leader or its political message.
Soriano said he would not garrison the militia members as suggested by its self-styled “political coordinator,” Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, because this would “give them a legitimacy they don’t have and give them the possibility to become a force they’re not.”
“There will be no cantonment, they will rather be chased away as outlaws and thugs,” he added.
Ngaissona has criticized the new government’s “ingratitude” for sidelining his forces.
“They have no memory, we are the ones who saved them,” Ngaissona said in his stronghold of Boy-Rabe, a neighborhood in the north of Bangui.
Ngaissona described the ongoing violence against Muslims as a “settling of scores” and blamed abuses on “rogue thugs.”
He acknowledged that he has “judicial problems” — he was incarcerated in the early 2000s for corruption and remains subject to several ongoing investigations — but says this is just an excuse to keep him out of power.
Earlier on Monday, EU foreign ministers formally approved an EU military mission to the former French colony, with about 500 troops to be sent to help 1,600 French and 5,500 African Union forces already deployed.
They are expected to be deployed in Bangui and provide security at the airport, freeing up French soldiers.