BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The Muslim president of Central African Republic says he is willing to negotiate with the Christian militias who attacked the country's capital earlier this month, setting off clashes that killed over 500 people.
"A team representing this militia contacted our authorities to say that they no longer want to stay in their camps, and that they've run out of food. They want to come out. Are they being sincere or not, no one can say for sure," government spokesman Guy Simplice told The Associated Press by telephone on Monday. "But after the disaster that befell our nation, the president felt obliged to accept this olive branch."
He added that President Michel Djotodia is willing to negotiate with the militia as well as to offer them amnesty, and give them a chance to be integrated into the government of national unity that he is hoping to form.
Djotodia led the Muslim rebels who overthrew the Christian-led government in March. Since then, Central African Republic has descended into chaos. It's unclear if a dialogue with the militias will lead to a ceasfire, especially since they are not united under a single front. At least one militia leader, who only gave his nom de guerre of "Rambo," called the president's offer of dialogue a non-starter.
"We have never approached him to say that we want to negotiate with the regime," he said by telephone. "And we can't possibly collaborate with someone ... who has surrounded himself only with members of his own ethnic group."
France launched an intervention into its on Dec. 5, sending 1,600 troops to try to stabilize the troubled nation. The animosity between Christians and Muslims seems not to have abated, and French forces have intervened to stop mob lynchings, sometimes at great risk to themselves.
In Paris on Monday, French President Francois Hollande led a ceremony in homage to two French soldiers killed last week during the first deadly skirmish in its former colony. The two French troops were inspecting a neighborhood near the capital's airport when gunmen opened fire on their patrol.
In Bangui, fighting seemed to have momentarily abated on Monday. Several banks reopened and were overwhelmed by clients trying to withdraw money. A few markets were also open, and residents complained that the price of basic goods including rice, milk, meat and oil had gone through the roof.
Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal also contributed to this report.