Christian militia in Central African Republic to abandon armed fight, form political party

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BANGUI, Central African Republic — A Christian militia in Central African Republic is abandoning its armed fight and transforming itself into a political party, according to a top official in the group.

Central African Republic has been rocked by violence since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition toppled the president last year. Widespread human rights abuses committed by Seleka led to the formation of the anti-Balaka Christian militia, unleashing sectarian fighting that has forced hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians to flee to neighboring countries.

As a U.N. peacekeeping force tries to restore stability, the former Muslim rebels have largely been confined to their bases, but Christian fighters have continued to carry out attacks.

Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, national coordinator of the anti-Balaka, announced Saturday that the militia would, from now on, only fight through political means. He said any member who carries out an attack will be brought to justice.

"I can assure you that the fighters have decided to turn this dark page of history that we have all lived through in this country," he said a conference of militia members. "No anti-Balaka should use his weapons."

The new party, the Central African Party for Unity and Development, will continue to press the militia's demands through political means, he said. Those include the release of militia members in prison and the reinstatement of the army salaries of militiamen who used to be in the military.

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