EU to send troops as CAR president pleads for peace

Catherine Samba-Panza celebrates her election. Picture: Getty Images
Catherine Samba-Panza celebrates her election. Picture: Getty Images
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European Union foreign ministers took a first step towards deploying troops to the Central African Republic yesterday as the mayor of the capital was chosen to lead the nation out of chaos.

At meetings in Brussels, international donors also pledged a total of £302 million in humanitarian assistance, while a top UN official urged the international community to keep the nation from “crossing the tipping-point into an all-out sectarian conflict”.

The EU took initial action towards sending as many as 600 troops to Bangui to aid the effort, diplomats said. It was unclear last night where the troops would come from and when they would deploy.

The force would reinforce 6,000 French and African peacekeepers, helping secure the lawless and violent country where nearly a million people are displaced.

Meanwhile, Bangui’s mayor Catherine Samba-Panza was chosen as interim president after two rounds of voting by the National Transitional Council, becoming the first female leader in the country’s history.

Ms Samba-Panza beat Desire Zanga-Kolingba, the son of a former president, in the run-off. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius described the 59-year-old as a “very remarkable woman”.

Ms Samba-Panza, a corporate lawyer in insurance who took over the mayor’s office last June, now will be tasked with organising national elections before the end of the year, a job critics say may be nearly impossible given the amount of looting and destruction of the country’s administrative buildings.

She also faces the enormous task of stemming anarchy and bloodshed that has left an untold number dead since a March 2013 coup. An armed Christian movement known as the anti-Balaka arose in opposition to the mostly Muslim Seleka rebellion that seized power then.

“I call on my children, especially the anti-Balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka, they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings,” she said.

She urged the 100,000 people sheltering near the airport – ironically nicknamed the Ledger after the town’s sole five-star hotel – to return home.

“I’m also calling on the international community to help us quickly restore order in our country which today is on the brink of chaos,” she said.

Under mounting international pressure, rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia stepped aside ten days ago after it became clear he lacked control over the fighters who brought him to power.

They were later implicated in scores of atrocities against the predominantly Christian civilian population. Mr Djotodia was the country’s first Muslim leader and an armed Christian militia movement launched an attempted coup in December.

While many hope a change in leadership will bring peace, violence has continued unabated since Mr Djotodia’s departure.

On Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross and its local partners reported burying 50 more bodies in the country’s north west over the weekend. Lynch mobs continue to roam the streets of Bangui.

“This election must mark a new beginning as the country moves towards the full restoration of democratic legitimacy,” said a statement from the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Central African Republic.