UN urges C.Africa rebels to engage in peace talks

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The UN Security Council on Friday urged armed groups in the Central African Republic to lay down their weapons and engage in peace talks following a series of attacks on peacekeepers and civilians.

In a unanimous statement drafted by France, the council threatened sanctions against those who undermine the stability of the Central African Republic.

The council urged the armed groups to “cease all forms of violence, destabilizing activities and restrictions on freedom of movement of people, lay down their arms, immediately and unconditionally, and engage constructively in the peace process.”

The African Union has been leading a peace process in the Central African Republic but there has been little progress.

One of Africa’s poorest countries, the CAR descended into violence in 2013 following the ouster of the majority-Christian country’s president, Francois Bozize, by a coalition of Muslim-majority rebel groups called the Seleka.

In response, Christians, who account for about 80 percent of the population, organized vigilante units dubbed “anti-balaka.”

France intervened militarily to help force out the Seleka before handing on to a UN peacekeeping mission.

However, the central government remains very weak, with its authority largely confined to Bangui, and violence has led to thousands of deaths.

Russia has recently offered to CAR’s government to mediate talks with the armed rebels, but that offer was rejected, according to a spokesman in Bangui.

The council is concerned about the ongoing violence including attacks on peacekeepers that have left 31 dead since the mission was launched in 2014.