JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A peace deal has been reached between the Central African Republic government and 14 armed groups after their first-ever direct dialogue aimed at ending years of conflict, the United Nations and African Union announced on Saturday.
The peace deal represents rare hope for the impoverished, landlocked nation where interreligious and intercommunal fighting has continued since 2013. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in a conflict that has sent two people to the International Criminal Court.
“I am determined to work with the president and his government to address the concerns of our brothers who took up arms,” said Central African Republic’s Cabinet director Firmin Ngrebada, according to the U.N.
The parties on Sunday will sign a draft of the agreement, which focuses on power-sharing and transitional justice, Sudan’s state media reported, citing Sudan’s chief negotiator Atta al-Manan. The final deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday. Talks began Jan. 24 in Khartoum.
“This is a great day for Central African Republic and all its people,” said the AU commissioner for peace and security, Smail Chergui.
The fighting has carried the high risk of genocide, the U.N. has warned. The conflict began in 2013 when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. Largely Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back. Scores of mosques were burned. Priests and other religious leaders were killed. Many Muslims fled the country after mobs decapitated and dismembered some in the streets.
The vicious fighting in a country known more for coups than interreligious violence was so alarming that Pope Francis made a bold visit in 2015, removing his shoes and bowing his head at the Central Mosque in the last remaining Muslim neighborhood of the capital, Bangui.