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Ex-rebels protest Bangui disarmament operation
Agence France Presse
A French soldier takes his position at daybreak in capital Bangui December 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu)
A French soldier takes his position at daybreak in capital Bangui December 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu)
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BANGUI: Former Seleka rebels and their Muslim supporters blocked a route near Bangui’s airport to protest against French troops conducting a disarmament operation, accusing them of killing three fighters in clashes Sunday.

Dozens of protesters could be seen using stones and tires to block an avenue in the Yangato area near the airport.

According to Muslim residents, clashes broke out early Sunday between the French soldiers and the ex-Seleka fighters, who mounted a successful coup in March but have since refused to lay down their arms.

They said three fighters were killed and several others were wounded, but their claims have not been confirmed by the French military.

France has deployed 1,600 soldiers to its former colony to bolster African force MISCA, which had been struggling to cope with an outbreak of Christian-Muslim violence.

The protesters also accused the joint disarmament operation by French and African troops in the Central African Republic capital of leaving Muslims at the mercy of so-called Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) vigilantes.

Congolese peacekeepers stepped in and fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, witnesses said.

The mainly Christian country’s first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia – who holds the post on an interim basis – Monday urged Muslim fighters backing him and the Christian vigilantes they oppose to lay down their arms to end the deadly retaliatory violence.

“I reiterate my entire availability to discuss with all those who have taken up arms, rightly or wrongly, so that we will finally all be disarmed without exception,” said Djotodia, the ex-head of the Seleka rebels.

Djotodia, who is supposed to step aside at the end of next year following elections, said: “Let us now transform our machetes, guns and other arms into ballots.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 23, 2013, on page 11.
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