The United Nations has imposed sanctions on the Central African Republic's former president Francois Bozize and two rebel leaders for undermining peace and fuelling violence in the conflict-torn country.
The Security Council committee monitoring the sanctions made the unanimous decision on Saturday, to impose an asset freeze and travel ban on Bozize, Seleka leader Nourredine Adam and anti-Balaka political coordinator Levy Yakete.
They are the first individuals to be sanctioned under a Security Council resolution adopted in January.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because committee discussions were private, said Russia and China initially held up the designation of Bozize but recently gave a green light.
US Ambassador Samantha Power welcomed the decision, saying those who instigated the violence "must be held accountable for their actions."
"These designations are a small step in the right direction," she said, adding that the Security Council "will continue to review additional designations of those responsible for undermining stability and tormenting the people of CAR."
CAR has been engulfed in violence since Muslim Seleka (alliance) rebels seized power in March 2013, driving then president Francois Bozize out of power and launching a campaign of terror against civilians.
The atrocities have transformed the conflict into one with religious undertones, pitting Seleka against the mainly Christian groups known as anti-balaka (machete), the weapon of choice for the Seleka rebels.
Financial and material support
According to a sanctions committee note obtained by the Associated Press, Bozize provided financial and material support to anti-Balaka militiamen working to destabilise the current transition and to bring him back to power.
He also allegedly called on his militia to commit atrocities against the current transitional government and the Islamists.
The committee said Yakete supports Bozize's return and has been accused of ordering the arrest of people connected to Seleka, calling for attacks on those who do not support the ex-president, and recruiting young militiamen to attack opponents with machetes.
Central Africans in the capital Bangui had different opinions about the sanctions, with some saying Bozize was being scapegoated and others praising the move against the former president. Still others thought the sanctions did not go far enough.
"It's weak as a sanction, Seleka wasn't sufficiently punished after all that they did," said Robert Mapika, a 30-year-old law student.
Adam, on the other hand, was one of the original Seleka leaders and was military coordinator of its offensives between early December 2012 and March 2013, the committee said. Without his involvement the Seleka would have been unlikely to oust Bozize.
He still directs operations against Christian neighbourhoods, and provides significant support to the ex-Seleka operating in the country, it said.
New Seleka leader
Reuters also reported on Saturday that the Seleka rebel coalition appointed a new army commander and planned to regroup its scattered fighters.
General Joseph Zindeko was appointed army chief by a Seleka congress that gathered more than 500 officers and officials in Ndele, about 650-km north of the capital Bangui on Friday, Colonel Djouma Narkoyo said.
"The objective of the Seleka General Staff is to bring together all Seleka combatants and restructure because at the moment they are scattered," Narkoyo told Reuters.
More than 2,000 people have been killed in the violence and another 1 million of the country's 4.5 million people have been displaced despite the presence of several thousand African peacekeepers, European Union and French troops.
The United Nations has warned that the conflict could spiral into genocide.