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Bangui - The interim prime minister of the Central African Republic met on Sunday with leaders of the mainly Christian “anti-balaka” militias, some of whom say they are “ready to co-operate”.
“I met the military chiefs of the 'anti-balaka' to discuss with them and see, through the means of the State, how to reintegrate them,” Andre Nzapayeke told AFP after the talks in a Bangui hotel.
Some claimed to be ready to co-operate in ending the sectarian violence between the Christian vigilantes and mainly Muslim ex-rebels that has torn the country apart following a coup last year.
A representative of the 'anti-balaka' (meaning 'anti-machete') announced ahead of Nzapayeke's comments that there was a split within the movement.
“The 'anti-balaka' was a single entity but problems have appeared and there is today a split,” captain Joachim Kokate told AFP.
“Today there are several factions within the 'anti-balaka',” said Kokate, who had been a spokesman for a group of officers who last year fought for the return of president Francois Bozize after he was ousted in a March 2013 coup by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels.
“We wanted to talk to the prime minister about the security problem,” Kokate said.
He said his fighters' objective was “to make Michel Djotodia leave,” referring to the ex-Seleka rebel chief who took power in the coup but was forced to step down under international pressure last month.
“From the moment he (Djotodia) left, the weapons should have gone silent and there was no more need for attacks,” he said.
Kokate claims that his faction of 'anti-balaka' militiamen was “ready to co-operate to restore peace”.
“We want to get the other groups to co-operate with the international community,” he added.
The new prime minister said he was “happy that there were among the 'anti-balaka' fewer and fewer extremists who agree to reclaim their place in the nation”.
But Nzapayeke added that he did not have a clear idea what the “anti-balaka” movement stood for at present.
The anti-balaka militias were initially self-defence groups formed in response to abuses committed by rogue ex-Seleka rebels.
But the violence has continued unabated between the Christian militiamen and minority Muslims who have fled the capital in their thousands in search of safety.
The country's new interim President Catherine Samba Panza, a Christian, has said her administration was “going to go to war against the anti-balaka”.
“The anti-balaka have lost their sense of mission. They are now the ones who kill, who pillage, who are violent,” she has said.
Amnesty International this week reported that anti-balaka violence had triggered “a Muslim exodus of historic proportions”.
France currently has about 1 600 troops in the country and plans to deploy 400 more, while the African Union force MISCA numbers more than 5 000. But they have been unable to stem a looting pandemic and a cycle of revenge attacks between Muslim and Christian fighters.
The European Union has agreed to join the effort and plans to send about 1 000 troops to the former French colony..
On Sunday a French official said the troops would begin deploying next month.
“In March, in a few weeks, there will be in the Central African Republic several hundred troops coming from several countries of the European Union,” the junior minister for European affairs, Thierry Repentin, told French media.
“It's a major step forward,” he added.
A possible UN peacekeeping operation to the CAR would require a green light from a reluctant African Union, as well as a UN Security Council resolution.