Rival militiamen have struck a truce and hugged each other in a neighbourhood of the Central African Republic’s capital on the eve of consultations aimed at replacing the president who resigned under international pressure.
The event reported by witnesses and CAR’s chief of staff offered a glimmer of hope that weeks of deadly sectarian violence would end following the resignation on Friday of Michel Djotodia, the mainly Christian country’s first Muslim president who left for Benin on Saturday.
It followed deadly weekend violence including reports of cannibalism and widespread looting in the capital Bangui.
The situation in Bangui was calmer late on Saturday but looting was still occurring on Sunday.
CAR chief of staff General Ferdinand Bomboyeke confirmed witness accounts of the laying down of arms which he said occurred after a “deal obtained” by the rivals fighting for days in a southern part of Bangui called Bimbo.
The fighting had involved men belonging to the mainly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels who brought Djotodia to power in March and Christian anti-balaka militiamen.
It was the first scene of this kind in Bangui following weeks of bloody sectarian violence.
The truce occurred after members of the French force in Bangui came to carry out a mediation effort, CAR official Roger Kombo said.
The fighters “hugged each other. They asked for forgiveness as people cheered,” Kombo said.
The fighters from both sides then went together to the neighbourhood market and re-opened the checkpoint, allowing people in the area to travel about freely again, he said.
The neighbourhood Seleka commander, Captain Souleimane Daouda, said “we reached a ceasefire” with the anti-balaka militiamen in the area.
“There were negotiations all night. Early this morning we met. We told each other that we had no reason to fight since Djotodia is gone. We await instructions from the future authorities.”
The National Transition Council, or provisional parliament, said it will on Monday begin its consultations with politicians and civil society members in a bid to elect Djotodia’s successor.