Push for 'dialogue' in C. Africa as UN chief visits
The president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, on Thursday vowed to push ahead with a contested programme of "dialogue" with militia groups, in comments backed by visiting UN chief Antonio Guterres.
At a joint press conference on the penultimate day of a four-day visit by Guterres, Touadera said a programme of "disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration" of armed groups was at the "centre" of his strategy.
Guterres said Touadera had "the entire support of the United Nations" and appealed to militias to "agree to participate in the country's political life".
Militia groups hold sway over most of the impoverished central African country -- the outcome of a bloody conflict in which the then president Francois Bozize was ousted by Muslim "Seleka" rebels and replaced by Touadera after French intervention and elections.
Touadera's dialogue project began in pilot form in September, with the introduction of several militia representatives into the government in a bid to encourage disarmament and integration.
But the initiative has met with widespread scepticism, given that armed groups are still being accused of atrocities and looting.
Thousands of civilians have lost their lives and half a million people have been displaced in the conflict out of a population of roughly 4.5 million.
The representative of a regional group, the Economic Community of Central African States, said the bloc would pursue a "an African peace initiative" for CAR that ECCAS and the African Union were launched at the end of 2016.
"We are determined to go to the very end," the ECCAS ambassador to CAR, Adolphe Nahayo, told French media, adding that he hoped for an agreement with armed groups within the next six months.
Guterres and Touadera visited a monument to victims of the conflict in Bangui, where they laid a wreath.
On Wednesday, Guterres visited Bangassou, a predominantly Christian town of 35,000 people around 700 kilometres (450 miles) east of Bangui which has been one of the areas worst hit by violence.
He spoke to displaced people, most of them Muslim, who have holed up in a Catholic seminary, and fear bloody attacks by the anti-Balaka, a nominally Christian militia.
His trip comes in the context of a looming decision by the UN Security Council on whether to renew the mandate, which expires next month, of its 12,500-troop peacekeeping force, MINUSCA.
He is lobbying for the mandate to be renewed and for an additional 900 troops.