BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Hundreds of residents in the last remaining Muslim neighborhood in Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, marched Wednesday to demand that armed groups withdraw and allow them to vote in elections.
PK5 residents shouted "Freedom, freedom," as they marched to United Nations mission headquarters. They asked the international body to help them dislodge armed elements.
"The non-negotiable point is the departure from PK5 of all those who do not want peace. They have demonstrated to the world that they want to keep PK5 under a protectorate," said Mohamed Ali Fadoul, president of a self-defense group there. "No one has the right to use rockets, Kalashnikovs, and for 24/7 to impose laws and take away our civil rights."
Defense Minister Joseph Bindoumi met the demonstrators.
"We are on the side of the people because we want peace," he said.
Pope Francis visited the area more than two weeks ago, calling for peace and reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim militias.
Five people died in attacks in PK5 aimed at preventing voting on a constitutional referendum Sunday. The vote, meant to usher in stability, was extended into the neighborhood Monday without violence, and into other areas of the country Tuesday. The vote is also seen as a test of whether Central African Republic's much-delayed national elections can be held Dec. 27.
The overthrow of the president in 2013 ushered in a brutal reign in which the Muslim rebels committed atrocities. When the rebel leader left power in 2014, a swift and horrific backlash by the Christian anti-Balaka militia against Muslim civilians followed. Sectarian violence has continued ever since.
Muslim rebel leader Noureddine Adam this week proclaimed an autonomous state in the country's north, after rejecting the elections.
The new territory was immediately denounced by the country's transitional government and the U.N.