Leaders of rival militias responsible for a brutal cycle of death and revenge killings in the Central African Republic have vowed to work for peace in an unprecedented meeting, state radio reported on Thursday.
The chiefs of the country's former Seleka rebel force that grabbed power in March 2013 and the anti-balaka militias that have opposed them in recent months made the promise in a gathering late on Wednesday organised in the capital by the country's interim prime minister, Andre Nzapayeke.
It was the first time the transitional authorities now running CAR have brought the two sides to the table.
The Seleka ex-rebels, a force largely drawn from the country's Muslim minority, were countered by a December deployment of French troops after Paris became concerned at the number of deaths occurring in the poor but resource-rich country.
The anti-balaka, whose name means “anti-machete” and mostly counts Christian vigilantes, also posed a problem when they rampaged against Muslim civilians.
“The prime minister received us to see how to definitively lift our country out of this cycle of violence,” said Herbert Gontran Djono Ahaba, minister of public works who is also a prominent Seleka figure and the brother of Michel Djotodia, who was briefly president but was forced to resign this year.
“We told him we were ready to act to bring back peace,” Djono Ahaba said.
“Every day we live scenes of violence. But we can't stay in that situation forever. It is time all that ceases so that we can rebuild our country.”
Joachim Kokate, the military chief of the anti-balaka who was recently named an adviser to the prime minister, said: “We have responded to the prime minister's appeal and told him of our wish to cooperate to end the violence.”
He added: “We are ready to work so that peace returns to our country, so that machetes are no longer used by anti-balaka to kill Muslims, and that Muslims no longer use weapons to fire on their compatriots.”
France maintains 2 000 soldiers already on the ground in the Central African Republic, alongside a 6 000-strong AU force.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has proposed taking over control of the AU force as part of a UN peacekeeping mission that would have a recommended strength of 10 000 soldiers and nearly 2 000 police officers. - Sapa-AFP