Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia resigned after failing to stop inter-religious clashes that have killed more than 1,000 people and forced almost a quarter of the population to flee their homes.
The 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States announced the decision following a two-day summit in neighboring Chad to discuss the country’s political leadership. Participants included the National Transitional Council, an interim law-making body that chose Djotodia as president after a coup by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels in March. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye also quit, according to the statement. A new leader should be chosen within 15 days, the group said.
France, the former colonial power, has deployed 1,600 troops and the African Union about 3,600 peacekeepers in the country to quell violence that intensified early last month, setting majority Christians against Muslim communities. Francois Bozize, the president overthrown in the coup last year, is Christian, while Djotodia, most members of the security forces, and former rebel fighters are Muslim.
Abuses by Seleka rebels against Christians over the past year prompted them to create anti-Balaka, or anti-machete, self-defense groups, leading to the recent outburst of violence that began in Bangui on Dec. 5, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said this week. Muslims who comprise 20 percent of the population are frustrated by years of marginalization, he said.
The resignations follow weeks of international pressure to end the clashes. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday called for an immediate stop to the “horrific cycle of violence and retaliation.” In December, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power visited the country to express the Obama administration’s commitment to prevent further atrocities there.
While France acknowledges the resignations, it is the responsibility of neighboring African states to watch over the Central African Republic transitional government, Foreign Ministry spokesmen Romain Nadal told reporters in Paris today.
Aid groups have expressed outrage at the level of brutality with the UN saying that two of the 16 children confirmed killed in the violence in December were beheaded and another mutilated, while more than 2.2 million people require humanitarian assistance. Unsanitary conditions in encampments, including the airport where more than 100,000 people have gathered, are breeding grounds for diseases, the UN said.
London-based Amnesty International estimates that at least 1,000 people died over two days of clashes last month alone.
Central African Republic is the world’s 12th-biggest producer of rough diamonds by volume, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The gems, along with timber exports, are the largest source of foreign exchange for the $3.6 billion economy. The country also produces oil and has deposits of uranium, the USGS says on its website.
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