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Central Africa begins search for new leader after bloodbath
by Staff Writers
Bangui, Central African Republic (AFP) Jan 14, 2014

US to fly Rwandan troops to Central Africa Republic
Washington (AFP) Jan 14, 2014 - US military aircraft are due to fy Rwandan troops to the Central African Republic in the next few days as part of an African Union mission, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

The operation, which could start within two days, will be "very similar" to one conducted in December when two US C-17 cargo planes transported 850 soldiers from Burundi to CAR, Lieutenant Colonel Rob Firman told AFP.

"We have a request from the AU to move Rwandans. We're in the process of coordinating those efforts now with the Rwandans and the French right now," General David Rodriguez, head of the military's Africa Command, told reporters last week.

The Pentagon did not say precisely how many Rwandan troops would be ferried to the Central African Republic.

Rwanda said last week it planned to send about 800 troops to join the African Union (AU) force, which is currently 4,000 strong and is due to reach 6,000 at full strength.

The AU contingent, which includes troops from Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Chad and Equatorial Guinea, is working alongside some 1,600 French troops.

America's large fleet of cargo aircraft as well as its surveillance drones are increasingly in demand from French and AU forces after unrest in Mali, CAR and South Sudan.

The US logistical support for Rwanda comes despite a recent chill in relations between the two countries.

In 2012, Washington accused Kigali of supporting the M23 rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo and froze $200,000 in military assistance to Rwanda.

In October, the United States renewed its suspension for the fiscal year 2014.

But Washington went ahead with the airlift for the Rwandan troops to CAR as the suspension does not apply to an international peacekeeping mission, officials said.

The Central African Republic descended into sectarian violence and chaos after a March coup in which the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew president Francois Bozize.

The Central African Republic began the search for a peacemaker president Tuesday after months of traumatic conflict that saw unprecedented sectarian violence with almost a million people displaced.

A special session of parliament convened to elect a new interim leader for the poor landlocked country of 4.6 million people, where a terrifying spiral of atrocities pitted Muslims against the Christian majority.

Rebel-leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia resigned last week under international pressure over his failure to stem the violence that claimed 1,000 lives in the last month alone.

Opening the parliamentary session, Lea Koyassoum Doumta, the transitional ruling body's (CNT) vice president said: "We should elect a personality who will respond to the legitimate aspirations of our people who have suffered too much."

She urged CNT members "to avoid making partisan or community-led choices", but to listen to the people.

"We need someone who represents peace, national reconciliation and who will supervise future elections in a spirit of transparency," she added, telling AFP afterwards that she hoped the election would be held as early as Saturday.

"We need a neutral man, linked neither to the anti-balaka or the Seleka," said Edgar Mbaikoua, a CNT member presenting himself as "independent" at a cocktail party in the basement of the parliament building.

In Paris, French President Francois Hollande stressed that his country did not plan to interfere in its former colony's search for a leader.

"Political initiatives have been taken. We do not have the vocation to pick the leaders of Central Africa," he said.

Hollande also voiced confidence that Europe would back French peacekeeping efforts in Central Africa. France sent in troops more than a month ago.

"We have not finished our task, we have to continue it but in a very different context," he added.

A Pentagon spokesman meanwhile said US military aircraft will fly Rwandan troops to the country in the next few days as part of the MISCA African peacekeeping mission.

People remain very cautious

The violence on the ground has abated somewhat following Djotodia's resignation, with police patrolling the streets of the capital Bangui for the first time in weeks.

French and African troops also maintained a massive presence in the capital.

In a sign of improved security in Bangui, almost 150 staff at one of the main hospitals in town, the Hopital de l'Amitie, returned to work after fleeing at the height of clashes early in December, Save the Children said Tuesday.

More than 500 patients have already been admitted this week, with the premises under the guard of Burundian soldiers from the MISCA African peacekeeping force, the charity said in a statement.

"The hospital is in a very populous part of the town, where many people have been displaced. The health care needs are enormous here," hospital director Abdulkarim Zakaria said.

Despite positive signs, few of the displaced scores of thousands who had fled to a sprawling, overcrowded tent city by Bangui's airport -- where 3,500 MISCA soldiers and 1,600 French troops are based -- were willing to risk going home.

There was "no large-scale return", said a representative of medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF). "People remain very cautious. They are aware that the situation is still volatile."

'Gross human rights violations'

Current interim leader Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, the speaker of parliament, had Monday urged the displaced to return home.

Nguendet, one of about a dozen potential candidates for interim president, seemed in campaign mode when he visited soldiers at an elite administration academy on Tuesday, saying: "I am the man of the situation."

Also Tuesday, a UN report said exactions had decreased in recent days but that the situation remained unstable, adding that around 40 deaths had been recorded in Bangui since Friday.

UN special representative Babacar Gaye said he was optimistic of a quick resolution to the political crisis but warned that "hatred is still present" between Muslims and Christians.

Djotodia, the first Muslim to lead the mainly Christian country, resigned at a summit of his regional peers after failing to halt the inter-religious violence in the wake of a March coup that ousted president Francois Bozize.

He proved unable to control his mainly Muslim Seleka rebels, whose looting, killing and raping spree sparked revenge attacks from Christian militias set up to defend against them.

Whoever is elected interim president will not be able to stand for elections due to be held no later than the first half of 2015.


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Bangui, Central African Republic (AFP) Jan 13, 2014
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