By Joe Bavier
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The United States imposed financial sanctions on Wednesday against two militia leaders accused of collaborating on violence intended to destabilize the Central African Republic, which is struggling to end years of division and bloodshed.
The assets of Abdoulaye Hissene and Maxime Mokom were both frozen, although it was not clear whether either holds any property within U.S. jurisdiction. Generally, U.S. nationals are also prohibited from transactions with those under sanctions.
Hissene is a chief in the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition that ousted then-President Francois Bozize in 2013. Mokom is an leader in the Christian militias known as anti-balaka, which arose in reaction to Bozize's ouster.
Violence between the Seleka and the anti-balaka, which included waves of ethnic cleansing, has left the country deeply divided along religious fault lines.
"Today's action underscores our ongoing efforts to target those responsible for fuelling violence and human rights abuses in the Central African Republic," said John E. Smith, the director of the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The allegations against Hissene and Mokom, who initially hailed from rival armed factions, underline the increasingly convoluted web of alliances between rebels and militias that continue to undermine security despite successful elections.
U.S. authorities accuse them of collaborating as part of a plot to overthrow Central African Republic's transitional government in September 2015 and attempting to derail through violence a constitutional referendum later that year.
They were suspected of planning to disrupt the arrival of President Faustin-Archange Touadera at the airport in the capital, Bangui, last June, raising fears of a possible coup attempt.
"From seemingly opposing sides of the conflict, Hissene and Mokom have in the past few years conspired to keep the war going, much for their own personal benefit," said Ruben de Koning of The Sentry, which researches the financing of conflict in Africa.
Both Hissene and Mokom have commanded fighters during a new wave of clashes that has struck the center of the country since November.
The violence, among the worst since 2015-16 elections, has stretched the capacity of a U.N. peacekeeping mission and highlighted the chaos that still reigns in much of the former French colony.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington, editing by Larry King)