Sunday, January 12, 2014

Violence Continues in the Central African Republic After Forced Resignation of Government

Violence Replaces Rejoicing After Central African Leaders Resign


BANGUI, Central African Republic — Sporadic looting, gunfire and a handful of deadly clashes, including some with French soldiers, took the place of celebrations here after the forced resignation of President Michel Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye on Friday.

Much of the battered capital already resembles a ghost town after a year of conflict, with disheveled and vacant ministry buildings, windowless university facilities and looted stores. Relative calm had returned by late Saturday as citizens awaited talks on Monday to select a new leader for a country from which most institutions have evaporated.

Mosques and Muslim-owned stores were the targets of mobs venting pent-up sectarian anger overnight Friday, after nine months of chaotic and sometimes deadly rule by Mr. Djotodia and his Muslim-dominated rebel group, known as the Seleka. The local Red Cross reported that three people were killed Friday night, while United Nations officials put the death toll at nine.

French military officials also said Saturday that they had been involved in deadly clashes with unidentified assailants, but were unable to say how many had been killed.

Some residents of Bangui defended the violence.

“Yes, sure, I helped break down the doors,” said Auben Allé, a Christian shopkeeper standing in front of a looted and abandoned mosque in the Yapele neighborhood, its windows now yawning black holes. Mr. Allé was wearing a small gold crucifix around his neck.

“I threw stones too,” he said. “Of course they deserved it.” Others said a large mob, including Mr. Allé, had gathered the evening before to sack the mosque, which had stood for some years in the heart of the peaceful mud-brick neighborhood’s small open-air market.

“People are so mad at the Muslims,” said Mr. Allé, explaining why he took part in the sacking of the mosque. “They’ve killed so many.”

On Saturday, Mr. Djotodia flew into exile in Benin, where he had once been imprisoned, Mr. Tiangaye said in an interview.

Regional leaders, fed up with Mr. Djotodia’s failure to stem violence that has killed about 1,000 in the last month alone, forced him and Mr. Tiangaye out of office at a meeting in Chad on Friday.

The rebels descended from the country’s remote north in March, overthrowing the government and unleashing what residents in the largely Christian south here have described as a reign of terror that included looting, killing and kidnapping. Since then, Christian militias have tried to oust the rebels, backed by the previous president.

“We used to live in perfect harmony,” said Elvis Ndakpa, 30, a Christian law student who gathered with others to speak with a visitor in front of the sacked mosque in Yapele. “But when the Seleka came in, everything fell apart.” The few Muslims remaining in the neighborhood are in hiding, he said. “They are frightened by what their brothers did.”

A French military official told reporters Saturday that Seleka fighters had been confined to a few military installations in Bangui, but that there were still “a lot of weapons in town.” In a phone interview, one of Mr. Djotodia’s former generals, Abdelkader Kalil, confirmed that his fighters had been confined, saying they were “very calm now.” The general blamed Christian militias and allied “thugs” for “robbing and stealing.”

The military official, Lt. Col. Sebastien Pellissier, said armed confrontations with either Muslim or Christian fighters were “regularly sporadic,” but that at least “the city is not in flames.”

Earlier in the day his men confronted armed fighters firing at civilians. “We were obligated to intervene,” he said. “We had to neutralize certain persons.”

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