N'DJAMENA – The Central African Republic’s president awaited a verdict on his future Friday as regional leaders and his entire legislature gathered in Chad’s capital in a bid to end sectarian violence ripping his country apart.
All 135 lawmakers from the landlocked country flew in Thursday to neighboring Chad, where they were ordered by African leaders at the summit to draw up a proposal on the future of their president, Michel Djotodia.
As the high-stake talks continued in N’Djamena, thousands of residents in the CAR capital of Bangui took to the streets demanding Djotodia’s departure.
“We want Djotodia to stand down. We need someone new to lead the country,” said one protester, while another said Djotodia should “stay in N’Djamena,” accusing him of responsibility for a “massacre.”
Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, Central Africa’s perennial kingmaker, had opened the summit with stark words seen as a push to remove Djotodia, or at least to curb his powers.
“The CAR is suffering deeply from the actions of its own sons, who are dragging their country down into a war that jeopardizes its future,” he said.
Deby called for “concrete and decisive action” to halt the violence pitting Muslims against Christian self-defense militias that has killed more than 1,000 people in the past month.
The regional leaders suspended their marathon talks in the morning and asked the CAR interim legislature to draft a deal for Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengaye to step down, sources said.
However, sources close to Djotodia dismissed any talk of his departure.
Djotodia has come under fire for failing to stem the spiraling violence between the mainly Muslim former rebels who brought him to power last year and militias formed by the Christian majority.
Although he is due to step down when a transition period expires in a year’s time, his inability to rein in chaos across the country has prompted calls for a swifter change in leadership.
“The solution must come from the Central Africans themselves,” ECCAS Secretary-General Allami Ahmat, a former Chadian foreign minister, said Thursday.
“Neither ECCAS nor the international community have come to change the regime. . . . It is up to those responsible (in the CAR) to decide the fate of their country.”
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France, the former colonial power in the poor, coup-prone nation, also stressed that any decisions must come from Africans themselves.
“There are certainly decisions to be made, with regard to the political transition and the fact the state is paralyzed. We shall see what our African friends decide,” Fabius told France 2 television Thursday.
“It is not France’s place to dictate decisions. We are here to offer support,” added Fabius, whose country last month deployed 1,600 troops alongside an African peacekeeping force.
In Bangui, the Central African communications minister warned that any talk of Djotodia’s departure would only worsen the crisis.
Regional leaders are anxious to stem the crisis as there are fears that the unrest extends beyond the Central African Republic.
The United Nations has warned that both ex-Seleka rebels and CAR former soldiers have crossed into the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo, causing local residents to flee.
Many troops fled their home country when the Seleka rebels launched their coup. The rebels in turn were pushed out when French and African peacekeepers arrived in the country in December.
Although mass slaughters have mostly ceased in Bangui itself amid frequent patrols by the peacekeepers, sporadic killings carry on almost every night.
A humanitarian disaster is also looming with almost 1 million people having fled their homes in a nation of about 4.6 million people.
Some 100,000 of them have set up camp in one tent city alone near Bangui airport, close to the peacekeepers’ bases.
UNICEF has warned of a potential disaster in overcrowded camps in and around the capital, where there have been several cases of measles, which could be deadly. Relief agencies have joined in a vaccination campaign.
EU nations are considering whether to join in the French and African peacekeeping operations in the country, with a meeting on the issue scheduled for Friday.