Central African Republic factions announce ceasefire

image copyrightAFP
image captionRepresentatives from the Seleka (l) and the anti-Balaka signed the agreement

Rival armed groups in the Central African Republic have signed a ceasefire agreement aimed at ending over a year of religious conflict.

The agreement was signed in Congo-Brazzaville between mainly Muslim Seleka rebels and the largely Christian anti-Balaka militia.

The BBC's Andrew Harding says despite the deal fighting has continued in the volatile central town of Bambari.

Almost a quarter of the 4.6 million population have fled their homes.

Muslims have been forced to flee the capital city and most of the west of the country, in what rights groups described as ethnic cleansing.

Both sides have been accused of war crimes such as torture and unlawful killing.

image copyrightReuters
image captionSeleka fighters withdrew from Bangui towards the north-east in January

At the scene: Andrew Harding, BBC News, Bambari:

The ceasefire agreement did not last long in Bambari. Two ex-Seleka soldiers were shot, and one killed, in a roadside ambush in town on Thursday morning, by suspected anti-Balaka fighters.

Even before the incident, the ceasefire had been dismissed as worthless by Muslim civilians and fighters in a town at the centre of a new surge of violence.

Dido Ibrahim Mahamad, a local captain in the ex-Seleka alliance, told the BBC that the only way to resolve the conflict in CAR was to partition the entire country, dividing it between Muslims and Christians.

In the dilapidated but still thriving Muslim neighbourhood of Bambari, shopkeepers said they had no confidence in the French peacekeepers, accusing them of bias towards Christians. A man called Moussa described the ceasefire as "worthless."

French troops - who first arrived here in January - continue to patrol the town. Christian civilians have abandoned their neighbourhoods and are living in three crowded camps on the outskirts - thousands of families sheltering from the ferocious seasonal rains in makeshift straw huts. Some said they welcomed the ceasefire and the promise of elections next year but were doubtful about the prospects of reconciliation in Bambari.

The negotiations began in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville on Monday.

"We have signed this ceasefire agreement today in front of everyone. Our commitment is firm and irreversible" said Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane, who headed the Seleka delegation.

Patrick Edouard Ngaissona, head of the anti-Balaka negotiating team, said anyone caught violating the ceasefire would be arrested.

'First step'

The president of Congo-Brazzaville and mediator of the talks, Denis Sassou Nguesso, said the talks were a success.

"The longest journey begins with the first step... Brazzaville is the first step," he said after the agreement was signed.

The Seleka rebels dropped their demand for CAR to be divided into a Muslim north and a Christian south.

image copyrightAP
image captionMost Muslim communities in the west and in the capital have had to leave

Further talks are due to be held in CAR to decide details such as disarmament and the country's political transition.

The latest violence in CAR began when mainly Muslim rebels seized power in March last year.

CAR's religious make-up

  • Christians - 50%
  • Muslims - 15%
  • Indigenous beliefs - 35%

Source: Index Mundi

The majority Christian state then descended into ethno-religious warfare.

The presence of some 7,000 international peacekeepers has also failed to put an end to the violence and revenge attacks.

Earlier this month Amnesty international named at least 20 people it says are suspected of ordering or committing atrocities and suggests they should be tried under international law by a hybrid court using national and international experts.

Around the BBC