COTONOU, Benin (AP) — The man who ruled Central African Republic as the country disintegrated into near-anarchy sought exile Saturday in the tiny nation of Benin, as violence overnight in the capital of Bangui left at least four people dead, officials and residents said.
Michel Djotodia, a rebel leader who hails from his country's north, had seized power of Central African Republic in March with the help of thousands of armed fighters, ousting the president of a decade. On Friday, he agreed to step aside along with his prime minister at a regional summit in Chad following mounting international pressure.
More than 1,000 people were killed in December alone as bloodshed erupted along religious fault lines, prompting nearly 1 million people to flee their homes. Djotodia's fighters were predominantly Muslim and their attacks on the majority Christian civilian population during their rule had led to Christian militias attacking mosques and killing Muslim civilians accused of supporting Djotodia and his rebel movement that was known as Seleka.
Babacar Gaye, the U.N. special representative to Central African Republic, urged people and the leaders "to maintain calm and show maturity following the resignations of the head of state and the prime minister of the transition."
Djotodia arrived Saturday afternoon in Benin, the tiny nation in West Africa where his wife is from, aboard a plane lent by the president of Chad. The former leader was greeted upon arrival by Benin's foreign affairs minister, Nassirou Bako.
"Accepting the former president here is Benin's contribution to re-establishing peace in Central African Republic," Bako told reporters.
Djotodia's departure after nearly 10 months in power was initially met with celebrations in the tumultuous capital of Bangui, although sporadic violence and looting occurred overnight in several predominantly Muslim neighborhoods.
At least four people were killed in Bangui's third district, where scores of homes also were burned down in reprisal attacks on Muslims accused of conspiring with Djotodia and his now-defunct government.
The political crisis has led to violence with increasingly sectarian undertones in a country where Christians and Muslims had lived among one another peacefully for generations. While religious leaders have called for tolerance, angry mobs have targeted and killed civilians in the streets despite the presence of some 1,600 French troops and several thousand other African peacekeepers who were sent to help stabilize the country.
An estimated 27,000 migrants from other African countries have fled Bangui in recent weeks with the help of their home governments as attacks on Muslim civilians have escalated. On Saturday, nearly 800 Chadians were being airlifted back home, the International Organization for Migration said.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Hippolyte Marboua in Bangui, Central African Republic, contributed to this report.