Central African Republic: Ex-Leader Djotodia Headed to Benin

Photo: Afrika Force
A shopping district in Bangui.

The Central African Republic's former president has sought asylum in Benin. Celebration - followed by violence and widespread looting - erupted in the capital of CAR after the resignation of the ex-rebel president.

Michel Djotodia, a rebel leader from the country's north, had agreed to step down on Friday, along with his prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, following growing international pressure to resign.

"I confirm that Mr. Djotodia is arriving in Cotonou this afternoon," Benin Foreign Minister Nassirou Bako Arifari told the news agency AFP on Saturday. "Benin accepts to welcome him at the request of member states of the Economic Community of Central African States, and it is our contribution to the search for peace in Central Africa."

Though many initially celebrated the announcement of Djotodia's departure on Friday, sporadic violence and looting occurred overnight in the capital, Bangui. The political conflict has devolved into sectarian violence, with the Christian majority now targeting Muslims accused of supporting Djotodia. Violence had eased by Saturday morning.

The majority Christian nation's first Muslim leader, Djotodia failed to rein in the rebels who brought him to power in March and whose abuses triggered retaliatory violence by Christian militias. At a special regional summit in Chad to try to restore peace in CAR, some raised hopes that the resignations of Djotodia and Tiangaye would ease the tensions.

Candidates to replace Djotodia have yet to emerge, but the interim parliament, whose members returned from a regional crisis summit in Chad on Saturday, plans to hold a special session on Monday. The head of the transitional body, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, will serve as temporary head of state for a maximum of 15 days.

EU Troops

On Friday, ambassadors from the EU's 28 members agreed to launch military operations in CAR to secure Bangui and protect refugees and aid workers from fighting between Christians and Muslims . According to the current EU proposal, there is a "pressing need" to restore security in order to "avoid the CAR sliding towards complete state failure on the previous Somalia model, and large scale massacres against the civilian population."

It is unclear which nations would contribute. A final decision will be made on January 20 when the EU's foreign ministers meet in Brussels.

France, the former colonial power, has been urging its allies to send money and reinforcements since December, and the country itself has deployed 1,600 troops to support just under 4,000 African peacekeepers in CAR. However, the modestly sized force has been unable to stem the violence and resulting humanitarian crisis.

Evacuation of foreigners

On Saturday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began airlifting foreigners following appeals from neighboring countries. The first flight evacuated some 800 Chadians.

More than 60,000 people from African nations asked their embassies in CAR for help, including Niger, Mali, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to an IOM statement.

Ten months of violence have displaced more than one-fifth of the country's population, and sectarian fighting has killed more than 1,000 people in the past month alone, despite France's military intervention and the presence of an African peacekeeping force. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the African Union to speedily provide promised troops to help curb the "terrible crisis" in the impoverished country.

mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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