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CAR leader pledges talks with armed groups

Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza offers to listen to warring factions.

Last updated: 22 Jan 2014 11:12
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Newly appointed interim-President Catherine Samba-Panza offers to hold talks with armed groups [AP]

Central African Republic's new interim president says she will hold talks with armed groups in an effort to restore order.

Catherine Samba-Panza, who was appointed as interim president on Monday, replaced former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, who stepped down under international pressure for failing to stop the country's spiraling violence.

Months of fighting pitting Seleka's mostly Muslim fighters against anti-balaka militia drawn from the Christian majority has driven out more than 1 million people from their homes and resulted in more than 2,000 deaths according to the UN.

But in a sign of growing support for Samba-Panza, a representative of former Seleka rebels, who seized power in a coup last March, has given her his backing.

"I want to meet with the armed groups and listen to them," Samba-Panza told reporters on Tuesday. "If they took up arms, then there is a reason for that."

General Ousmane Mamadou Ousmane, president of the commission in charge of military reform of the Seleka alliance, said: "Our goal is clear, to support the new president to finish her mission, to support her so that peace returns to Central African Republic."

A spokesman for a major group of anti-balaka fighters said on Monday he believed the new president could end the violence.

Growing concern

Concern over violence in the mineral-rich nation of 4.6 million people has prompted greater international involvement. The European Union has agreed to send 500 troops to support a 1,600-strong French mission, named Sangaris after a local butterfly.

A senior UN official has warned of the risk of genocide.

Samba-Panza used her first news conference as president to appeal to the international community to step up aid to help relaunch government activities, which have ground to a halt due to lack of money.

Residents in a makeshift camp housing 100,000 at Bangui's international airport also welcomed the appointment of the new president but said they still feared attacks.

"We can't return home," said Richard Prince Masengue, referring to his neighborhood. "The Sangaris operation has not arrived yet so there is still insecurity there."

Aid workers could struggle to feed the displaced after a strike by U.N. truck drivers in neighboring Cameroon who say it is too dangerous to enter the country, leaving 1653 tons of food, enough to feed 155,000 people for a month, stranded at the border.

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Source:
Reuters
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