The Central African Republic has appointed the mayor of Bangui to be interim president, as the European Union agreed to send 500 soldiers to help stabilise the country.
Catherine Samba-Panza, one of eight candidates, was elected by members of the National Transitional Council about a week after former rebel leader Michel Djotodia resigned as president under international pressure over his failure to end the bloodshed.
“I am the president of all Central Africans, without exception,” said Samba-Panza. “I appeal to my anti-balaka and Seleka children to listen to me and together lay down your weapons.”
Last March, rebel groups known as Seleka came together to overthrow President François Bozizé and there have been widespread reports of killings, rape and looting since then. Attacks and counter-attacks between Muslims and Christians have intensified the levels of bloodshed and brutality.
To qualify, the eight candidates had to show they had no link to the Muslim Seleka rebels which brought Djotodia to power, or the forces behind the mainly Christian “anti-balaka” militia.
Samba-Panza faces the challenge of rebuilding one of Africa’s most fractured nations – torn apart by a conflict that a senior UN official warned last week could slip into genocide.
Enhanced EU role
Her appointment comes as EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to embark on its biggest military operation in six years.
Ministers meeting in Brussels approved an outline plan to send a battalion-sized force to the violence-torn country but detailed military plans still need to be worked out.
EU officials hope to get UN Security Council authorisation for the mission this week and also that the force will start arriving in the CAR by the end of February. It will be based around the capital Bangui.
It is not yet clear which EU countries will contribute troops. Estonia has promised soldiers, and Lithuania, Slovenia, Finland, Belgium, Poland and Sweden are among countries considering sending troops, diplomats say.
France has already sent 1,600 troops to the war-torn country. The foreign ministers of the 28-nation European Union agreed on a “crisis management concept”, for a multinational European force that would be active for six months and tasked with helping stabilise the situation.
Large EU countries such as Britain, Germany and Italy have said they will not contribute.
CAR is supposed to hold elections by February 2015, according to the terms of a regionally-brokered peace plans that set up the governing National Transitional Council in March last year.