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Bangui - The commander of French forces in Central African Republic said on Monday that Christian “anti-balaka” militias had become the main threat to peace in the country, a day after gunmen murdered a legislator who suggested they be disarmed.
Jean-Emmanuel Djarawa, a member of the transitional assembly meant to guide the country to elections next year, was shot near his home in Bangui after he made a speech calling for the militia to be confined to barracks. No one claimed responsibility for his killing.
Djarawa's death is a blow to new interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of Bangui who was appointed last month promising to end the cycle of inter-communal violence.
Central African Republic descended into chaos after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March last year and embarked on a 10-month reign of terror marked by looting, torture and murder.
Since the departure of Seleka leader and interim president Michel Djotodia in January under international pressure, Christian militias have stepped up revenge attacks against Muslims.
The United Nations says the tit-for-tat violence has killed more than 2 000 people and left about a quarter of the country's 4.5 million people homeless.
“Today, they (the anti-balaka) are the trouble-makers. They are the ones causing heavy losses among the population. They are the ones stigmatising communities and today they have become enemies of peace in the country,” General Francisco Seriano, commander of the French mission, told a news conference.
Former colonial ruler France has sent in 1 600 troops to bolster 6 000 regional peacekeepers, amid fears the violence could spread over the borders of the impoverished country in the heart of Africa.
Attackers followed Djarawa, a Christian representative for eastern Haute-Kotto province, and shot him several times near his house in northern Bangui on Sunday night, government officials said.
“He was returning home from town and he was shot down with eight gunshots by armed men,” said parliamentarian Etienne Bazouati.
Amy Martin, head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bangui, said the killing would put additional strains on peacekeepers as officials sought more protection.
“It will be impossible for troops to protect both members of parliament and the neighbourhoods,” she said.
Three daylight lynchings were reported last week and thousands of Muslims have tried to flee to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. Muslims in the capital are now confined mostly to the PK12 neighbourhood in Bangui's north, Martin said.
Central African Republic, one of the continent's poorest countries despite its mineral resources, borders six states, including South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.