Central African president sees political conspiracy in attacks

AFP , Sunday 1 Jun 2014

Catherine Samba-Panza at the swearing-in ceremony in Bangui. (Photo:Reuters)

A recent surge in violence in the Central African capital of Bangui was caused by "agitators" trying to "manipulate the youth for purely political reasons", President Catherine Samba Panza said on Sunday.

The leader made the comments after a visit to a local hospital where victims were recovering from a deadly attack on a church earlier in the week that sparked mass protests.

A total of 17 people were killed in the attack on Notre-Dame de Fatima church, which the president has previously described as a "terrorist act".

Samba Panza said recent improvements in the security situation "do not please everybody".

"They are agitators who underhandedly try to manipulate, to use the youth for purely political reasons," she said.

She said "investigations are underway. As soon as we have proven facts, I will be able to speak in a more precise manner."

Her comments mirrored those of her prime minister, Andre Nzapayeke, who said on Thursday that recent attacks were part of "a planned conspiracy" by "politicians very close to power", including people close to his own cabinet and the presidential office.

In a bid to reconcile opposing groups, leading members of the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group and their mostly Christian opponents in the "anti-balaka" militia were given positions in the new cabinets that were formed when Samba Panza's interim government came to power in January.

Tensions have been high in Bangui in recent days. Three people were killed and several injured on Friday when security forces fired on thousands of protesters calling for the departure of international peacekeepers accused of failing to prevent the church attack.

The protesters also called for militants in the last Muslim enclave in the city, PK-5, to be disarmed.

Tens of thousands of Muslims have already fled the capital after brutal attacks by the anti-balaka. Around 200 to 300 Muslims in PK-5 held a rally on Saturday, saying they would be immediately killed if they gave up their weapons.

"The will to disarm is certain," said Samba Panza. But "we cannot disarm them in the midst of this disorder" and leave the Muslims "at the mercy of those who want to come and attack them."

She said she had held talks with leaders in PK-5, and said the disarmament would be carried out by French forces. "We will disarm them gradually while ensuring the protection of the population," she said, without specifying a timetable.

Calm had been restored to Bangui by Sunday. The many barricades that had sprung up in recent days were gone.

The deeply impoverished, majority Christian country has been wracked by relentless tit-for-tat attacks between Christian vigilante groups and the ex-Seleka rebels who seized control in a coup last year but were forced from power in January.

There are 425,000 internally displaced people across the country, and a further 121,000 refugees in neighbouring countries.

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