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

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

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

The mainly 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.

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

An explosion of bloodletting on December 5 had claimed nearly 1,000 lives in Bangui when ex-rebels went on a two-day rampage to avenge deadly Christian militia attacks, Amnesty International has said.

Calling for a "battle of national reconciliation for the triumph of good over evil," Djotodia said the impoverished country needed a "bigger dose of patriotism and a national jolt".

Djotodia, who is supposed to step aside at the end of next year following elections, said: "Let us now transform our machetes, guns and other arms into ballots." He vowed to ensure the "rules of the electoral game" are respected.

'They say we brought Seleka to power'

African Union peacekeepers and French troops tasked with disarming the belligerents patrolled Bangui on Saturday, seeking to keep a lid on simmering tensions.

Without the protection of the ex-rebels on the ground, many Muslims, who make up about one-fifth of the population, say they are at the mercy of the vigilantes and are furious at the French force for preventing them from defending themselves.

"The Muslims are seething," a well-informed observer said.

Thomas Curbillon of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders added: "The situation is so volatile that you have to take it a day at a time. You can't anticipate. The situation is enormously worrying."

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

"The Chadian units... 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.

A Chadian peacekeeper was among those killed in the latest violence overnight Thursday.

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

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

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

Deby also urged other European countries "to follow France's example".

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Friday hailed France's intervention in the country and promised a decision on a possible EU support mission in January.

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."

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.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131221/nations-survival-depends-disarmament-c-african-leader-1