Anti-Balaka Christian militiamen stand in the Combatant district of Bangui, Central African Republic, Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014 (Photo: AP)
The commander of French troops in the Central African Republic on Monday accused a militia known as the anti-balaka of being the country's "main enemy of peace" who would be defeated as outlaws and thugs.
The mainly Christian vigilantes have been accused of brutal attacks against Muslim rebels after the ouster of president Francois Bozize in March last year by predominantly Muslim rebels led by Michel Djotodia, who was himself forced out last month after failing to end the sectarian violence.
"Those who call themselves 'anti-balaka' have become the main enemy of peace in the Central African Republic, branding (entire) communities and attacking" French forces, General Francisco Soriano said in a meeting in Bangui with the country's religious leaders.
A French operation codenamed Sangaris to end the unrest was launched two months ago.
General Soriano told AFP that nothing was known about the militia's chain of command, its leader or its political message.
Soriano said he would not garrison the militia members as suggested by its self-styled "political coordinator", Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, because this would "give them a legitimacy they don't have and give them the possibility to become a force they're not".
"There will be no cantonment, they will rather be chased away as outlaws and thugs," he added.
Ngaissona has criticised the new government's "ingratitude" for sidelining his forces, but said he was ready to disarm.
"They have no memory, we are the ones who saved them," Ngaissona told AFP in his stronghold of Boy-Rabe, a neighbourhood in the north of the capital Bangui.
Ngaissona, who was a minister in the government that was ousted last year as well as head of the country's football federation, defended the group's actions.
"For several months, the international community did nothing. Nobody told Djotodia and his mercenaries to stop. So, in July, the people rose up.
"There should be a recognition of anti-balaka's role in liberating the people of Central Africa."
Ngaissona also criticised the new president, Catherine Samba Panza, who was appointed on January 20, for failing to appoint him or other anti-balaka to the transitional government.
"Madam said she would take counsel and ministers from us, but she has done nothing," he said. "She is hated today as a result of her government and cabinet."
Ngaissona described the ongoing violence against Muslims as a "settling of scores" and blamed abuses on "rogue thugs".
He acknowledges that he has "judicial problems" -- he was incarcerated in the early 2000s for corruption and remains subject to several ongoing investigations -- but says this is just an excuse to keep him out of power.
Bangui Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga meanwhile called on the media not to refer to the vigilantes as "Christian militias".
"In the 1990s, village militias protected people from highwaymen," he said. "Call them self-defence militias, village militias but please spare us the word 'Christian'" in this context.
"Muslims are not the only ones suffering from the anti-balaka. We have all become victims," he added.