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France, Africa must treat CAR conflict as war, ex-PM says

Source: Reuters - Sat, 14 Dec 2013 03:28 PM
Author: Reuters
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Displaced people leave after a food distribution process was cancelled in Socati stadium, Bangui December 14, 2013. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun
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By John Irish

MONACO, Dec 14 (Reuters) - French and African forces intervening in Central African Republic must wage war against the Seleka rebels and not just aim to restore security, a former prime minister said.

Anicet Dologuele, who plans to run for president in the next election, said interim authorities needed to do more to prevent the escalation in religious violence to help restore the people's faith in the country's politicians.

"This is a war. This is not just a mission to disarm a few who are willing. This is a war of French forces and the MISCA against the Seleka forces," he said on Saturday on the sidelines of the World Policy Conference in Monaco.

"We can't content ourselves with just removing their weapons and saying 'ciao', because they will come back with new weapons. Everything that is a nuisance needs to be destroyed," he said.

Central African Republic (CAR) has been paralysed by cycles of violence since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in March. Their months in power have been marked by killings, looting and other abuses, leading to the emergence of Christian militia to oppose them.

These militia and gunmen loyal to Bozize attacked the capital last week, triggering fresh killings and reprisals that have deepened the conflict. More than 500 people have died and 100,000 were displaced in the capital alone.

A U.N.-authorised French peacekeeping mission has restored a degree of calm to the capital but the conflict continues. The U.N. human rights office said the Christian militia, known as anti-balaka, killed 27 Muslims on Thursday in Bohong, a village about 75 km (45 miles) from the western town of Bouar.

Further highlighting the difficulties in restoring stability, a mob close to a French checkpoint outside the airport lynched and mutilated a man on Saturday they said was a colonel in the Seleka who had killed civilians.

They cut off his hands and genitals and hung a sign around his neck, according to a Reuters witness who saw the body and the crowd.

"Just a month ago I didn't sense a problem between Christians and Muslims, but now we've descended into hell," said Dologuele, who was prime minister from 1999 to 2001, then chairman of the Central African Development Bank to 2010.

"As leaders we have to pass messages to the population."

"MR CLEAN"

France sent a 1,600-strong force into its former colony last week with U.N. backing to disarm Muslim and Christian militias and halt fighting that was spilling over into killing of civilians.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the complexity of the situation meant the mission could be harder than Mali, where French troops are still trying to rid the north of Islamist militants following an intervention in January.

Although Paris has sought to shed its image of policeman on the continent, officials say the level of violence in CAR required urgent action.

Dologuele urged interim President Michel Djotodia, an ex-Seleka commander, to do more to calm the situation.

"One can be bypassed by events, but one has to try and speak. This passive attitude surprised me. Each time he seems to speak only in favour of his fighters," he said.

Dologuele, known in local media as "Mr Clean" for his careful handling of the country's finances, returned to CAR in September after several years in exile to create a new political party, the Union for Central African Renewal.

The party has some 60 founders from across the country and aims to break the monopoly of former parties and politicians and create a younger generation of leaders.

Dologuele said he plans to run for president in the next election, which is expected to take place in 2014.

"There is no political class in this country. There are no human resources. We thought (power) politics was the solution to everything and that's why we're probably the country in the world with the most former prime ministers and ministers," he said.

"My generation is almost lost, but my objective is to create a future generation." (Additional reporting by Emmanuel Braun in Bangui; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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