Central African Republic’s mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group has reinstated Michel Djotodia as its leader, a spokesman said, months after international pressure forced him to step aside for failing to halt violence that erupted after he seized power last year.
Djotodia’s reinstatement risks complicating peace talks due to take place in the neighboring Republic of Congo later this month between Seleka leaders and the ‘anti-balaka’ militia that they have been fighting against for months.
Djotodia, who was briefly president of the former French colony and has been hit with sanctions by the U.S. government, went into exile in Benin in January. His stint in power was marked by abuses that prompted the creation of mainly Christian self-defense militias and cycles of revenge killings.
Colonel Christian Djuma Narkoyo, deputy spokesman for Seleka’s military wing, said founding military commanders Nourredine Adam and Mohamed Dhaffane had also been named as Djotodia’s deputies during a Seleka meeting in the northern town of Birao, where Adam is based.
“They have all been reinstated as they are the founders of the movement and they must stay in place,” Narkoyo said. “We recognize them as leaders and will work with them.”
Seleka named a new leadership in April after Djotodia stepped down but his reinstatement could be an effort to restore direction to the movement which has seen internal power struggles.
Key political and religious groups have threatened to boycott the peace talks, saying their country’s future should be resolved at home. French diplomatic sources played down the threat, saying the focus was on securing a ceasefire before any political process could begin. [ID:nL6N0PM3X2]
A French diplomat said the sanctions against leaders – Adam is also under U.N. sanctions – would complicate talks but, after months of not knowing who was in charge, it was important to identify the key players in the groups.
Djotodia and Adam would return to the capital Bangui once there were guarantees they would not be arrested, Narkoyo said.
In the meantime, he said, they would be represented by other officials. Seleka will demand at the Brazzaville talks that the conditions of the January agreement that saw Djotodia step down be fully implemented, Narkoyo added.
These include the group being handed key jobs, including the defense, interior and mines ministries, he said.
There are now 2,000 French troops working alongside 6,000 African peacekeepers in the former French colony, which is rich in diamonds and gold but has seen little but internal strife and the spillover of regional conflicts since independence.
About 1 million people, or about a quarter of the population, have been forced from their homes and the violence has led to virtually all Muslims abandoning the capital and other southern areas for the northern rebel strongholds.