The ‘anti-Balaka’ armed group in Central African Republic (CAR) has announced that it would lay down its weapons and become a political movement.
The armed Christian group, which was formed to counter the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels that seized power last year, made the announcement following a general assembly in capital Bangui late on Saturday, Reuters news agency reported.
The new movement would be renamed the Central African Party for Unity and Development (PCUD).
“We pledge to look forward, as responsible individuals concerned for a better future for Central African Republic and its people,” said Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, a businessman and coordinator of the anti-balaka movement.
“From today, no member of the anti-balaka should use weapons, for any reason. Our arms must all be buried.”
The audience for Ngaissona’s announcement included diplomats and senior government officials.
Ngaissona did not say who would be the party’s candidate for next year’s presidential vote, meant to draw a line under a democratic transition.
The international community, led by former colonial power France, has called for the warring factions in CAR to become more directly involved in the political process.
In March 2013, the Seleka rebels overthrew the government of President François Bozizé, which they said had committed abuses against Muslims in the northeast.
After establishing an interim government in the capital, Bangui, Seleka fighters attacked the city’s neighbourhoods.
In response to the violence, self-defence groups called the anti-balaka (anti-machete) began committing large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians.
Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to a northern enclave still controlled by the Seleka, fleeing the anti-Balaka attacks and effectively splitting the country along religious lines.
France has deployed troops and an African peacekeeping force was beefed up and transformed into a UN mission to stem the sectarian violence.