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Chad's Deby lays down the law for Central African Republic

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

With Friday's resignation of Central African interim president Michel Djotodia amid chaos in his strife-torn country, Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno upheld a reputation as "kingmaker" over his poor neighbour.

Deby, who chaired a summit of the regional Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), was said to be angry at the impotence shown by Djotodia in the face of mounting sectarian violence that has claimed thousands of lives.

Deby summoned the whole parliament of the Central African Republic -- known as the National Council for Transition -- to N'Djamena to help determine the fate of Djotodia and his Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, who also stepped down.

When all 135 lawmakers arrived by plane Thursday, African leaders ordered them to draw up a proposal on the future of their leader, who had failed to stop the violence and atrocities after coming to power in a coup last March.

Chad's chief personally convened the ECCAS summit that began Thursday and he opened it with a blunt call for "concrete and decisive action", urging the 10-nation regional body "to show solidarity and determination to pull Central Africa back from the abyss".

Djotodia's fate hung in the balance while talks went on into the early hours, but he never had the full support of his peers, who reluctantly accepted his leadership in April last year but decided to call him "head of the transition", rather than president, according to Deby.

When Djotodia and Tiangaye resigned, the regional leaders in N'Djamena "congratulated them on this highly patriotic decision for a way out for the country in paralysis", in a statement.

The turning point for Deby apparently came when Chadian soldiers in an African peacekeeping force and long-term Chadian residents in Bangui were savagely assaulted in December by mobs from the Christian majority, prompting a mass exodus. Deby said Thursday that 18,000 Chadians had been repatriated.

In many places, Christians had formed vigilante groups to protect their communities against the mostly Muslim former rebels of the Seleka coalition who put Djotodia in power, then frequently went rogue when he declared their alliance dissolved.

Both the former rebels and the Christian self-defence militias have been accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of atrocities including killings, rape and mass looting in a nation where the two religious communities hitherto lived together in peace.

Deby told his African counterparts of "the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers", including troops of the African Union's 4,000-strong MISCA force and the 1,600 men of France's Operation Sangaris, which are both tasked with peacekeeping and disarming fighters.

"Today there is one observation to be made and it is bitter. The CAR is being shaken to its deepest core by the actions of its own sons, plunging their country into a war that dangerously compromises its future and that of the Central African people," Deby added.

'Central African Republic, capital N'Djamena'

Yet less than a year ago, Chad's leader gave a tacit green light to the Seleka rebels to topple president Francois Bozize, who fled on March 24, 2013, leaving a country with a long history of coups, rebellions and mutinies since independence from France in 1960.

Chadian troops deployed around Bangui did nothing to defend Bozize's regime, though the army general had come to power himself in a coup 10 years earlier with support from N'Djamena. When he was ousted, Bozize was no longer considered dependable.

Relations with Djotodia soured far more quickly, though ambiguity surrounded the nature of N'Djamena's ties with the Seleka rebels, some of whom had come from Chad, once they began carrying out atrocities that went on unpunished for months.

Many Bangui residents denounced what they saw as collusion between some of the former Seleka fighters and Chadian soldiers in the MISCA force, at the expense of Christians. Deby dismissed these allegations.

He also laid all responsibility for the crisis in the CAR squarely on the heads of its leadership. "If there's been a failure, it's that of the political class as a whole," he told the transitional lawmakers, who were expected to help usher in elections this year.

"The transition hasn't worked as we wanted," Deby said. "The authorities who were entrusted with leading this transition have not met the expectations of the Central African people and of the international community, of which the most important are order and security."

"The ECCAS states have no intention of imposing leaders on you, as some apparently want you to believe," he also said.

But that was not how some media in Bangui saw the relationship on Friday. "Central African Republic, capital N'Ddjamena", proclaimed the Internet news site La Nouvelle Centrafrique.

"The reality is that Central Africa is under regional guardianship," Le Journal de Bangui told its readers Friday.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140110/chads-deby-lays-down-the-law-central-african-republic