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Christian woman appointed interim President in CAR

24 January 2014

By Helen Pye


Interim President: Catherine Samba-Panza

Interim President: Catherine Samba-Panza

THE Christian mayor of Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza, was appointed interim President of the Central African Republic (CAR) on Monday. The announcement comes at a time of fresh violence against Muslims by so-called "anti-balaka" (anti-machete) Christian self-defence groups, and threats of food shortages.

Members of an interim parliament elected Ms Samba-Panza after the resignation of the leader of the Seleka coalition of rebels, Michel Djotodia, on 10 January (News, 17 January). The new President must restore state administration and organise national elections before the end of the year.

The EU responded to Ms Samba-Panza's call for help from the international community when ministers agreed in a meeting on Monday to send 1000 troops to the CAR. These soldiers will support 1600 French troops already in the former French colony.

Peacekeepers struggled to contain sectarian violence in the capital on Friday, however, as a Christian mob killed and burned two Muslims in the street.

An attack on a convey of Muslims fleeing the violence in the remote north-west of the country left 22 dead on Friday, including three children. A rocket grenade, as well as machetes, clubs, and guns, were used to attack the refugees.

The director of Save the Children in the CAR, Robert Lakenau, said that the attack showed that African and French peacekeepers were not able to stem violence in isolated areas. He believed that much of the violence in remote parts of the country was going unreported. "An incident of this magnitude has only come to the forefront because of our internal contacts at the hospital. Maybe a lot of these stories are not being reported," he said.

The United Nations World Food Programme announced on Monday that food for homeless people in the CAR was running out. Thirty-eight trucks carrying rice are stuck at the Cameroon border as drivers refuse to cross, fearing attacks. The agency was now considering airlifting food into Bangui, where more than 500,000 people are believed to be homeless.

More than 1000 people have died in the country since December, and one million have been displaced from their homes since Mr Djotodia seized power in March 2013.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, spoke before the House of Lords on Thursday of last week, voicing a growing concern that the scale of the situation in the CAR could turn into genocide.

"I hope the Minister can give us some comfort by confirming that the Government are talking to our European allies to ensure that whatever is needed is provided," Dr Sentamu said. "Otherwise, we will end up with genocide, and pictures on our television screens that will make all our stomachs churn day by day."

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