Central African Republic rebels block key highways in capital


Seleka rebels in Central African Republic blocked two highways through the capital Bangui on Thursday and exchanged gunfire with U.N. peacekeepers, witnesses said, in a further bout of the violent disorder plaguing the country.

The fighters, based at Camp Beal in Bangui since their leader ceded power to a transitional government in January, were protesting at a plan to relocate some of their ranks to a southern province to improve security in the capital.

Central African Republic sank into chaos when the mostly Muslim Seleka seized power in the majority Christian state in March 2013, ousting its president and unleashing communal strife that has killed thousands and displaced around one million.

A backlash from the mostly Christian or animist “anti-balaka” militia, coupled with international pressure, forced Seleka leader Michel Djotodia to quit and go into exile in January, paving the way for a transitional government.

But despite the presence of U.N. peacekeepers, inter-communal bloodshed has persisted and many Muslims have been driven from Bangui and other southern parts to the north and east, a region effectively under Seleka control.

There was no word on casualties during Thursday’s gunfire in Bangui although witnesses said both sides appeared to shoot into the air. Peacekeepers took up positions on the Avenue des Martyrs close to Camp Beal and the main city hospital, they said. There was no immediate Seleka or U.N. comment.

The International Organization for Migration has been mandated to relocate Seleka fighters away from Bangui but they have resisted, citing concerns for their own safety.

Central African Republic is rich in diamonds, uranium and gold but it has been plagued by coups and misrule since independence from France in 1960, leaving it one of the world’s most impoverished countries.