After weeks of heavy fighting between Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic left nearly 1,000 people dead, Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye said Thursday that presidential elections would be held next year.
The move comes amid pressure from France, its former colonial parent, to speed up the transition that began in March, when the country’s Christian president was ousted in a coup and replaced with an interim Muslim rebel leader. Earlier in the day, Tiangaye met with Samantha Powers, the American ambassador to the United Nations and one of the loudest critics of the country’s response to past atrocities, Reuters reports.
Powers’ arrival to Bangui represents the largest effort by the U.S. to raise awareness about the violence, driven recently by the disbanded Séléka coalition of Muslim rebels, that has wracked the state for most of the year. Still, the visit raises a battle of her own: Power is there to highlight the humanitarian tragedy that has unraveled further in the past few months — “obviously urgent action is required to save lives,” she said in a conference call with reporters the night before her trip — but U.S. aid has been limited to helping transfer foreign troops into the capital.
(Photos: Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic)
During the visit, Power visited a hospital where those wounded by bullets and machetes were being treated, as well as a cathedral and a mosque. In the afternoon, upon returning to the airport, she met privately with the interim President Michel Djotodia, whose ex-Séléka are accused of attacking Christian farmers, slaughtering civilians and burning their homes.
A new report by Human Rights Watch documented the surge in violence since September and detailed calculated attacks by the “anti-balaka” militias against Muslims. The tension, which peaked in early December, has calmed a bit with France’s addition of 1,600 troops.