Wednesday 22 October 2014

Mayor picked to lead troubled CAR

Published 20/01/2014 | 16:37

Michel Djotodia resigned as leader of the Central African Republic

The mayor of Central African Republic's capital has been chosen to lead the country out of chaos by the members of a national transitional council.

Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza was chosen as interim president after two rounds of voting, becoming the first female leader in the country's history.

It comes as a top UN official urged the international community to keep the nation from "crossing the tipping-point into an all-out sectarian conflict".

At two meetings in Brussels, international donors pledged a total of 496 million US dollars (£302 million) in humanitarian assistance and European Union foreign ministers took a first step towards potentially deploying hundreds more troops.

They would reinforce French and African peacekeepers and help secure the lawless and violent country where nearly a million people are displaced.

Ms Samba-Panza beat Desire Zanga-Kolingba, the son of a former president in the runoff. Wearing a bright pink suit jacket, she thrust her arms into the air in victory.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius described the 59-year-old as a "very remarkable woman".

Ms Samba-Panza, a longtime corporate lawyer in the insurance industry who took over the mayor's office last June, now will be tasked with organizing national elections before the end of 2014, a job critics say may be nearly impossible given the amount of looting and destruction to administrative buildings throughout the country.

She also faces the enormous task of stemming anarchy and bloodshed that has left an untold number dead since a March 2013 coup. An armed Christian movement known as the anti-Balaka arose in opposition to the mostly Muslim Seleka rebellion that seized power then.

"I call on my children, especially the anti-Balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka, they should not have fear. I don't want to hear any more talk of murders and killings," she said.

She urged the 100,000 people sheltering near the airport - nicknamed with bitter irony the Ledger after the town's sole five-star luxury hotel - to return home.

"I'm also calling on the international community to help us quickly restore order in our country which today is on the brink of chaos," she said.

Under mounting international pressure, rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia stepped aside 10 days ago after it became clear he lacked control over the fighters who brought him to power.

They were later implicated in scores of atrocities against the predominantly Christian civilian population. Mr Djotodia was the country's first Muslim leader and an armed Christian militia movement launched an attempted coup in early December.

While many hope a change in leadership will bring peace, violence has continued unabated since Mr Djotodia's departure.

On Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its local partners reported burying 50 more bodies in the country's northwest over the weekend. Lynch mobs continue to roam the streets of Bangui.

"This election must mark a new beginning as the country moves towards the full restoration of democratic legitimacy," said a statement from the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Central African Republic.

Some 1,600 French peacekeepers along with 4,400 African troops are working to restore order though nearly all of them are in Bangui while violence has ravaged the distant northwest.

Today, the European Union took initial steps in Brussels towards sending as many as 600 troops to Bangui to aid the effort, diplomats said. It was unclear where the troops would come from and when they would deploy.

In addition to the EU aid offer, the United States also announced that it would be providing nearly 30 million US dollars (£18 million) in more humanitarian assistance, bringing the total to 45 million dollars (£27 million) since major violence erupted last month.

At a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for "swift and concrete action to defuse the spiralling inter-communal anger and resentment that is becoming dangerously entrenched".

While the presence of French peacekeepers has prevented large-scale reprisal attacks, Ms Pillay said the disarmament effort has left many Muslim civilians vulnerable to violence from the Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka.

"The mission received consistent, credible testimony and photographs supporting allegations that anti-Balaka mutilated Muslim men, women and children, before or after they were killed," she said.

Tens of thousands of migrants from neighboring African countries - mostly Muslims - have fled Central African Republic in the last month, some to home countries where they barely speak the language and have few remaining relatives.

AP

Press Association

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