The Central African Republic’s former Seleka rebel coalition has appointed a new army commander and plans to regroup its scattered fighters, a spokesman has said, a move that could further deepen divisions in the war-torn country.
General Joseph Zindeko was appointed army chief by a Seleka congress that gathered more than 500 officers and officials in Ndele, about 650km north of the capital Bangui, on Friday, Colonel Djouma Narkoyo said on Saturday.
“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 the Reuters news agency by telephone.
He added that the coalition’s general staff would also decide on the creation of a political wing.
“We also want to better secure our area and protect people in the eight districts we control,” Narkoyo said.
The former French colony descended into chaos after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March last year and their abuses against the majority Christian population set off a wave of revenge attacks, killing thousands.
Seleka leaders were forced to resign under international pressure in January, but Christian militias known as anti-Balaka have intensified attacks against Muslims.
Hundreds of Seleka rebels as well as Muslim civilians have fled Bangui and the south to the north and neighbouring countries, raising fears of a de-facto north-south partition of the country along religious lines.
In Bambari, a town near the dividing line separating the mainly Christian south and mostly Muslim north, which the rebels have chosen as their headquarters, many are advocating for a partition, although Seleka leaders are divided on the issue.
More than 2,000 people have been killed in the sectarian violence and another one 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 a genocide.