Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Central African Republic: Stranded Foreign Nationals to Be Airlifted Out

The International Organization for Migration is evacuating stranded foreign nationals Saturday from the Central African Republic, following appeals from neighboring African countries.

The airlift comes after the resignations of President Michel Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengaye Friday at the end of a two-day summit in Chad by leaders of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

ECCAS leaders said talks will be held in Bangui, the CAR capital, to decide the country's new leadership. The announcement follows months of deadly sectarian violence.

There has been no comment from Djotodia, who was in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, for the summit.

The first three IOM charter flights in the coming days will repatriate about 800 Chadians from war-torn Bangui to N'Djamena.

The 800 are part of a group of 2,500 Chadians sheltering in a transit camp adjacent to Bangui airport, living in miserable conditions at the overcrowded and unsanitary site.

Reporter Nick Long is in Bangui. He tells VOA that people were elated to hear word of Djotodia's resignation.

"Jubilant is the word, I think," Long said. "There were whoops of joy and shouting and cheering and car horns blaring and shots in the air - celebratory shots in the air, I should say - as soon as the news emerged."

He later reported hearing the sound of "heavy gunfire" in the city, but said the source of the shooting was not clear.

Amnesty International has called for an increase in the number of peacekeepers in the CAR. The human-rights group warned the president's resignation could trigger attacks by Christian militias against Muslim civilians, and retaliatory attacks by the former Seleka rebels.

French and African peacekeepers in the CAR have been largely unable to stop the recent violence, which has left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced more than 900,000 others. An estimated 100,000 people are now camped out around the Bangui airport.

In Bangui, reporter Long said the process of replacing Djotodia with another interim leader appears to be straightforward.

"I spoke to civil society people about this and they suggested it is not too complicated," he said. "There is an interim parliament, a transitional national council which selected Djotodia, and which could easily select an alternative - another interim president - until elections are held."

In a VOA interview, analyst Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council Africa Center, said Djotodia's support base had grown small.

"You had a head of state who certainly was not the choice of the majority of the citizens of the country, who lived in the southern part of the country and are predominately Christian," Pham said. "He had fallen out with the largely Muslim minority from the Seleka which had brought him to power. So, here is a man with no constituency. It is almost inevitable that he has to go to make room for some transition."

In Washington, the U.S. State Department reacted to word of Djotodia's departure. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. focus is on the CAR moving forward.

"We urge CAR's national transition council to now conduct a transparent, inclusive process as they deliberate on the selection of the new transitional president. The council should ensure that the new leadership is committed to restoring security for the people of CAR and holding elections no later than February of 2015."

The International Organization for Migration says it will begin airlifting stranded foreign nationals out of the CAR on Saturday, following appeals from neighboring countries. The group says the initial flights will be to repatriate about 800 Chadians who are in Bangui.

Djotodia came to power last March, after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels toppled overthrew president Francois Bozize. Abuses by the former rebels continued, however, and subsequent counterattacks by Christian militia groups led to a cycle of escalating violence.

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