BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Central African Republic's transitional president opened talks Saturday with leaders of a Christian militia who have called for her government to resign, a spokeswoman said, trying to put a stop to days of heavy violence that killed one U.N. peacekeeper and injured more than a dozen others.
"The initiative aims to defuse the crisis that has paralyzed the capital since Tuesday," Antoinette Montaigne said after Catherine Samba-Panza met with representatives of the militia in the presidential palace.
The country has been rocked by violence since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition toppled the president of a decade last year, installing their leader, Michel Djotodia, as head of state. Widespread human rights abuses committed by Seleka led to the formation of the anti-Balaka Christian militia.
Djotodia resigned in January amid an international outcry over escalating violence.
Samba-Panza was then appointed transitional president and tasked with steering the country to new elections, but analysts have recently issued dire warnings about the fragility of the transition.
In recent days, the capital has been the scene of the heaviest fighting since a U.N. peacekeeping force took over in September.
One peacekeeper was killed and eight others wounded Thursday in an ambush on the outskirts of Bangui. On Friday, six U.N. police officers were wounded when an armed group fired on their patrol as they monitored a protest at the airport
The airport demonstrators were calling for Samba-Panza's resignation. Flights in and out of Bangui were suspended Friday and the airport remained closed Saturday.
At Saturday's meeting, the anti-Balaka militia group submitted five demands including the release of arrested members and the inclusion of others in a transition council. They also asked for anti-Balaka members dismissed from civil service posts to be reinstated, and for the transitional government to agree not to arrest and prosecute militia members.
A fifth demand, for the government formed in August by Prime Minister Mahamat Kamoun to resign, was dismissed outright, said Alfred Legrand Ngaya, an adviser for the anti-Balaka delegation.
"The president of the transition does not want points concerning government institutions to be addressed in this phase of the crisis," Ngaya said.
Bangui was relatively calm Saturday, though gunfire was reported in the city's northern districts in the morning. The city remained tense as food prices rose and drinking water became scarce in some neighborhoods.
The situation posed "the first real test" for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, said in an article posted online Friday.
"This latest incident shows how fragile the situation remains in the capital and how crucial it is for U.N. peacekeepers to respond quickly and robustly to even the slightest hint of violence," Bouckaert said. "Within a matter of hours, a small incident can spiral out of control, bringing the rival militias back onto the streets. Each time it is civilians who pay the price."