'Nation's survival' depends on disarmament: C. African leader

Central African president Michel Djotodia on Saturday urged Muslim fighters backing him and the Christian vigilantes they oppose to lay down their arms, the day after 30 more people were killed in continuing violence.

The predominantly Christian country's first Muslim president -- who holds the post on an interim basis after seizing power in a March coup -- also renewed an offer of talks with the Christian "anti-balaka" vigilantes.

"I reiterate my entire availabilty to discuss with all those who have taken up arms, rightly or wrongly, so that we will finally all be disarmed without exception," he told a news conference.

"A physical disarmament but also and especially a disarmament of the heart, for the survival of our nation depends on it," said Djotodia, who headed the Seleka rebel coalition.

In just two days early this month nearly 1,000 people were killed in Bangui when ex-Seleka rebels backing Djotodia went on a rampage to avenge deadly Christian militia attacks, Amnesty International has said.

Djotodia already offered dialogue with the militia in mid-December.

Also Saturday, Chadian President Idriss Deby appealed to the militia not to target Chadian troops in the country as part of an African Union peacekeeping force.

"The Chadian Unions... are wrongly singled out by the anti-balaka (who) consider the Chadian soldiers to be Muslims who have come to back the Muslims," Deby told a news conference in the Chadian capital Ndjamena.

"Chad's contribution is essential to the restoration of peace in the CAR," he added.

The Chadian contingent counts some 850 men in the 3,700-strong MISCA force in the volatile, impoverished country, which has been plagued by decades of armed violence linked to mutinies, coups and attempted coups.

Several hundred Chadian civilians meanwhile were at a military airport awaiting evacuation.

"They are killing us here because we are Muslims and Chadians," one young man said. "They say we brought Seleka to power, and that is why we are leaving."

France has deployed 1,600 soldiers to its former colony to bolster MISCA, which was struggling to cope with the outbreak of Christian-Muslim violence.

Although fighting has abated significantly, signs of violence are everywhere. At dawn on Saturday three bodies could be seen on a main road leading out of Bangui, probably of Muslims killed during the night, residents said.

Also Saturday, the French military said it had removed a picture from an army website in which one of its soldiers deployed in the Central African Republic was sporting an insignia with the Nazi slogan -- "My honour is called loyalty", the motto of Adolf Hitler's SS.

"This is an unacceptable attitude that doesn't reflect the reality of the armed forces," said French army spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron, adding that the soldier would be "immediately suspended" as soon as he had been identified.