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Chad announced Thursday it was withdrawing from the African peacekeeping force in the violence-torn Central African Republic after being accused of siding with a mainly Muslim movement that held power for most of last year.
Chad came under the spotlight last weekend when at least 24 people were killed and another 100 seriously wounded by Chadian soldiers sent to repatriate their compatriots from the mainly Christian CAR, according to officials there.
The Chadian government said it was pulling out from the peacekeeping force because of "a wanton and malicious campaign" against its troops, one it said aimed to make them "bear the responsibility" for all the country's troubles.
"Face with these repeated accusations, Chad... is deciding to withdraw the Chadian contingent from the MISCA (peacekeeping force)," the government statement said.
It said the practical steps of the withdrawal will be tackled in "common agreement" between Chad and the African Union.
"In the meantime Chad will assume without fail its peace mission in the zones it is responsible for in the CAR," said the statement, which did not give details about the areas.
Chadian soldiers have been accused of siding with the mainly Muslim Seleka movement -- which seized power in March 2013 and held it until January this year -- and of showing passivity toward abuses some of them carried out against the population.
Chad has always denied the charges.
CAR's interim president Catherine Samba Panza, who succeeded Seleka leader Michel Djotodia when he stepped down in January under international pressure, announced Tuesday the opening of an investigation into the killing of the 24 people by Chadian soldiers.
It was the worst-known incident involving foreign troops since French and African peacekeepers deployed in CAR late last year amid an upsurge of violence.
A MISCA officer said on Sunday that the soldiers had fired after they were attacked, but locals said the soldiers had deliberately fired on the crowd.
- French move east -
In the past year, the country -- one of the poorest in the world -- has been racked by Muslim-Christian fighting that has claimed thousands of lives and caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
In the last few weeks, mainly Christian militias known as "anti-balaka" have been accused of spearheading violence against Muslim communities.
The militias were formed last year in response to the coup by the Seleka rebels that toppled president Francois Bozize.
France has deployed about 2,000 troops to back the 6,000 Africans of the MISCA contingent in efforts to restore security and undertake the uphill task of disarming fighters. The European Union has also launched an intervention force slated to have up to 1,000 troops.
French forces began moving this week into the east of the CAR in a third phase of deployment, the head of the operation, General Francisco Soriano, said Thursday.
In the initial phase, during the first two months of the operation, French forces worked to secure the capital Bangui, before moving into the west of the vast country to control the major trade route to Cameroon.
Soriano said the new deployments were possible because of a recent increase in French troops.
The arrival of EU troops "will allow us to increase our deployment in the east and the north of the country," he added.