The Central African Republic’s interim leader Michel Djotodia is weighing a possible amnesty for militias involved in Christian-Muslim violence that has killed hundreds of people, most of them civilians, in exchange for their disarmament.
The former rebel leader said in a state radio address, late on Saturday, that he had been contacted by a representative of the mainly Christian and animist militias known as anti-balaka, who were demanding inclusion in the transitional government he leads.
“The anti-balaka sent us an emissary and said they want to lay down their weapons and leave the bush, but they fear for their security. They gave preconditions … They asked for an amnesty and entrance into government,” Djotodia said.
“Contacts are already established and we will pursue these exchanges in the interest of peace for all Central Africans,” he added.
“We don’t see the harm, because this is the price of peace.”
The country has been paralysed by cycles of killing, torture and looting since Djotodia’s mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian nation in March.
We don't see the harm, because this is the price of peace.
Djotodia has since lost control of his former fighters whose abuses have led to the emergence of the anti-balaka, meaning anti-machete in the local Sango language, opposing them.
Over 1,000 extra French troops were deployed this month to try to stop the violence that has displaced over 680,000 people – nearly one-seventh of the country’s inhabitants – according to the United Nations.
The anti-balaka along with gunmen loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize, attacked the capital Bangui last week, triggering more killings and reprisals that have deepened inter-religious conflict. More than 500 people died and 189,000 have been displaced in the capital alone.
A government spokesman said that Djotodia was not excluding any of the demands made by the anti-balaka and was planning to reach out to other groups for similar talks – which might also mean the Seleka rebels.
“The president will consider anything that will lead to peace in Central African Republic,” Guy-Simplice Kodegue said.
Rights groups expressed scepticism over whether an agreement with the only loosely affiliated militias could bring peace.
“I think the question is whether there is enough structure among the anti-balaka to deliver on promises to lay down arms” said Peter Bouckaert, emergency director at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Elections are due to take place in 2015, however the government in Bangui currently exerts little control even within the capital.
On Sunday French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said his country is asking for more help from its European partners to bolster its peacekeeping mission in the country