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Bangui - The government of the Central African Republic called for calm and promised to do its utmost to restore peace on Monday after the latest incident in a conflict over diamonds killed seven people.
The centre of the country has been rocked by a recent outbreak of fighting between rival armed groups vying for control over diamond mines that has killed 50 people in two weeks.
The military said on Sunday that rebels of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) fired a missile at a vehicle carrying former rebels of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) and civilians near Bria, the country's main diamond mining hub.
A senior local official was among one of those killed.
“The government condemns these acts of violence with dramatic consequences and firmly pledges to restore peace by all methods it deems necessary,” Justice Minister Firmin Findiro said on Monday.
“It also calls on both sides in the conflict to end all hostilities and give priority to tolerance and dialogue,” he added in a statement.
Findiro also defended Bangui against allegations that it had been slow to react to the clashes in the Bria region, saying it had backed official efforts to mediate between the two groups.
He said the government had not kept silence or shown lack of concern, while the deployment of troops in the region had helped to avoid the worst.
A military source in Bria said the army was in control in districts unaffected by the fighting as well as the town's main arteries but had not intervened directly between the two sides.
The UFDR is dominated by the Ronga and the CPJP by the Goula, two rival ethnic groups which have feuded over the region's diamond mines for years.
President Francois Bozize has condemned the clashes as deplorable but told the National Assembly on Wednesday: “No one provoked the Ronga and the Goula into fighting each other. I am not responsible for the fighting.”
The UFDR has signed a peace agreement with the government and the CPJP a ceasefire, but the International Crisis Group think tank said last year that diamonds stoked a type of conflict that is best described as “banditry under a rebel flag”.
“The government's refusal to distribute national wealth fairly has led jealous individuals and disenfranchised groups to take up arms for a bigger slice of the cake,” the group said. - Sapa-AFP