France brokers partial truce in CAR capital Bangui

Christian vigilantes rest in Bangui's Ouengo district, 12 January Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Heavily armed fighters can still be seen across Bangui

Rival militiamen have embraced each other in a district of the Central African Republic capital Bangui after the French military brokered a truce.

Gunmen laid down arms in the city's southern district of Bimbo after days of bitter fighting there between Muslim and Christian groups.

The violence-racked city is much calmer though fighting continues elsewhere, a BBC correspondent reports.

Talks are due to begin on Monday on electing a new, acting president.

Michel Djotodia, who served as interim president after his mainly Muslim Seleka rebels took power in a coup last March, has left the country, with reports that he will go into exile in Benin.

At least 1,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled their homes since violence broke out in the Christian-majority country in December.

France, the former colonial power, has deployed 1,600 troops to try to restore peace, along with an African Union force of some 4,000.

The UN has warned of an impending humanitarian disaster in the country.

'No reason to fight'

The "reconciliation" in Bimbo, confirmed by the BBC's Thomas Fessy, followed a weekend of violence and disorder, with reports of widespread looting and even cannibalism in the stricken city.

Fighters "hugged each other", CAR official Roger Kombo told AFP news agency. "They asked for forgiveness as people cheered."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption These women were escorting the body of a man killed by an ex-Seleka rebel in Bangui
Image copyright AFP
Image caption African Union peacekeepers detained suspected looters in the city
Image copyright AFP
Image caption French soldiers tried to calm a mob which attacked a car reportedly carrying members of a former Seleka commander's family
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The car's occupants were evacuated by African Union peacekeepers before it was set on fire

They then went together to the neighbourhood market and re-opened the checkpoint, allowing people in the area to travel about freely again, he added.

The local Seleka commander, Captain Souleimane Daouda, told AFP a ceasefire had been reached with anti-balaka fighters (as Christian vigilantes are known) after all-night negotiations.

"Early this morning we met," he said. "We told each other that we had no reason to fight since Djotodia is gone. We await instructions from the future authorities."

The CAR's chief of staff, Gen Ferdinand Bomboyeke, confirmed a "deal" had been obtained between militants in the district.

In another development, people attended a service at Bangui's cathedral for the first time in a month.

Meanwhile, rioters in Bangui set alight a car which had reportedly been carrying family members of a former Seleka commander. The family was evacuated by African peacekeepers.

Six bodies were also collected by the Red Cross on Sunday.

French and African peacekeepers have set up roadblocks in a bid to prevent further unrest.

Interim leader

The National Transition Council (NTC), or provisional parliament, is to begin consultations on Monday with politicians and civil society members on electing Mr Djotodia's successor.

NTC speaker Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet is tasked with convening a special session of the parliament to elect a new temporary president.

"He must be someone who can unite Central Africans, restore security, ease tensions, put everybody back to work, and pave the way for free, democratic and transparent elections," said NTC deputy speaker Lea Koyassoum Doumta.

Michel Djotodia, CAR's first Muslim leader in a country where Muslims make up about 15% and Christians about 50% of the population, seized power last year.

Though he officially disbanded the Seleka rebels who enabled him to take the presidency, he proved unable to keep them in check and their actions prompted Christians to form vigilante groups, sparking a deadly cycle of revenge attacks.