CAR president calls for tougher UN mandate

Dakar - Central African Republic's interim President Catherine Samba-Panza called on Saturday for a tougher mandate for the UN mission, Minusca, and the disarmament of militias and rebels after more than 40 people were killed in the capital of Bangui.

Samba-Panza, who returned early from the UN General Assembly in New York this week because of the unrest, also declared three days of national mourning for the victims, starting on Monday.

The murder of a Muslim man last weekend rekindled sectarian violence that has plagued the mostly Christian nation of 4.5 million people since Muslim Seleka rebels briefly seized power in March 2013.

Scores of homes were burned, while shops and aid organisations' offices were looted in the riverside capital, severely hampering humanitarian operations.

More than 40 000 people were displaced, according to UN figures, and the violence ended any hopes of holding elections scheduled for October 18.

Samba-Panza has blamed the latest unrest on supporters of former president Francois Bozize, who was ousted in 2013 by mainly Muslim rebels who fought under the umbrella group Seleka.

Army side-lined

Many shops reopened on Saturday and people returned to the streets. Isolated acts of criminality were reported, however, and a night-time curfew remains in place.

"The whole of the Central African people is convinced of the need for a more robust mandate for Minusca forces and the complete and immediate disarmament of the non-conventional forces," said a statement from Samba-Panza, read on national radio. She gave no details on what such a mandate would be.

Samba-Panza took office in early 2014 after Seleka relinquished power in the face of international pressure. She is charged with steering the country to elections this year.

In a bid to put in place a government with a democratic mandate, the international community is pushing for the vote to go ahead before the end of the year, despite widespread insecurity and Seleka's hold over parts of the north.

In the south, the "anti-balaka" Christian militia controls swathes of territory.

In recent weeks, protests have taken place in Bangui and other towns at the failure of the 10 000-strong UN mission and French forces to restore peace, amid opposition calls for the national army to be re-armed. The police and gendarmerie are allowed to carry weapons but soldiers are not.

The Central African military was side-lined when Seleka seized power and many of its members are alleged to have carried out sectarian violence as part of the "anti-balaka" militia.

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