First face-to-face meeting in CAR peace talks

Central African Republic (iStock)
Central African Republic (iStock)

Central African Republic's government and militias who control most of the country held on Friday their first face-to-face talks since the country's crisis erupted in 2012, as fresh violence claimed 13 lives.

Their arduously-arranged peace talks began on Thursday in a suburb of the capital of Sudan.

"First face-to-face meeting between government and the 14 armed groups on Friday morning in Khartoum," the UN said on Twitter.

Militia chiefs met high-ranking government emissaries, including Defence Minister Marie-Noelle Koyara, Justice Minister Flavien Mbata and President Faustin-Archange Touadera's chief of staff, Firmin Ngrebada.

The armed groups put forward their demands, according to UN sources, who gave no further details.

Photographs that the UN released of the meeting showed Ali Darassa, head of one of CAR's biggest armed groups, the Unity for Peace in Central Africa (UPC).

Darassa, whose group has clashed this month with government and UN forces in the central town of Bambari, had previously said he would not go to Khartoum.

The meeting, brokered by the African Union after 18 months of exploratory work, aims at reaching an accord and setting up a follow-up committee.

But seven previous peace talks have been held and no agreement has lasted. The previous deal, in 2017, survived less than 24 hours.

One of the stumbling blocks is whether militia chiefs should be amnestied, as well as persistent violence that has undermined trust.

Late Thursday, a UPC militiaman in Ippy, about 100km from Bambari, opened fire on a funeral, "killing 10 people and injuring 17 others, 13 of whom are in serious condition," the UN told AFP on Friday.

A UN source told AFP that toll may be higher, adding that the assailant was a "drunken UPC fighter. The zone commander executed him in public on Friday."

Hours before, three people, including a woman and a child, were killed on a road near the central town of Alindao by so-called anti-Balaka militiamen, whose representatives are at the Khartoum talks.

- Prolonged crisis -

CAR's crisis brewed in late 2012 when a mainly Muslim rebel movement called the Seleka seized towns in the north and centre of the country.

In March 2013, after power-sharing deal with the government broke down, the Seleka entered the capital Bangui and forced president Francois Bozize, a Christian, from power.

A predominantly Christian militia called the anti-Balaka emerged, prompting widespread fears of Rwandan-style genocide.

Former colonial ruler France intervened militarily under a UN mandate, pushing the Seleka from power, and in February 2016, Touadera, a former prime minister, was elected president.

But he only controls a fraction of the state, despite the support of more than 13 000 troops and police in the UN's MINUSCA mission.

The rest of the country is in the hands of militias, who typically portray themselves as defenders of a community or religious group but often fight over cattle or mineral wealth, a hoard that includes gold, uranium and diamonds.

Thousands of people have been killed and a quarter of the population of 4.5 million have fled their homes.

Sudanese authorities say the parlay in Khartoum could last up to three weeks.

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