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Summit to debate future of Central African Republic

By Krista Larson

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8 2014 12:53 p.m. MST

Children walk past a makeshift shelter, inside an informal camp housing an estimated 100,000 displaced people, at Mpoko Airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. Food and supplies distribution by the World Food Program and the United Nations Refugee Agency began Tuesday and was expected to last 10 days. It is the first aid delivery to reach the camp since Dec. 15, and many families were lacking food or even rudimentary shelter from the harsh daytime sun and chilly nights. Residents were receiving supplies including rice, cooking oil, tarps, mats, and blankets.

Rebecca Blackwell, Associated Press

DAKAR, Senegal — The embattled president of Central African Republic, under growing pressure to resign, traveled to Chad on Wednesday for a summit with other African leaders who want to end the bloodshed that has killed more than 1,000 people in his nation.

Michel Djotodia, a former rebel leader who was thrust into the presidency of Central African Republic after his Muslim fighters captured its capital 10 months ago, has been widely criticized for failing to stop the inter-communal violence that exploded last month.

Wednesday's trip marks the first time Djotodia has left the volatile country since an attempted coup in early December. Armed Christian fighters were behind that attack, and they have vowed to continue their battle until Djotodia steps down.

France's foreign minister said leaders from other states in Central Africa will meet Thursday to discuss whether Djotodia should stay on as interim president.

A top French government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said there were some signs that Djotodia would resign. The official said France, the Central African Republic's former colonial ruler, was playing no role in the talks.

Djotodia's spokesman, Guy Simplice Kodegue, denied that the interim leader would step aside.

Djotodia is the first Muslim president of a predominantly Christian country, and is accused of solidifying his hold on power with the help of mercenary fighters from Chad and Sudan. His men — collectively known as Seleka — are accused of committing scores of atrocities against civilians since seizing power in March 2013.

Anger over the deteriorating situation has sparked waves of inter-communal violence.

Armed Christian militias who oppose Djotodia's leadership also have been accused of committing human rights abuses against Central African Republic's minority Muslim population in retaliation, beating and stoning to death suspected former members of Seleka.

Religious leaders and the international community have appealed for peace, and thousands of French troops and regional African peacekeepers are trying to temper the mob violence now in Central African Republic. Tensions remain high, though, and nearly 1 million people — including more than 500,000 in Bangui, the capital, alone — have fled their homes.

As international criticism has grown over the rights abuses, Djotodia sought to distance himself by formally disbanding his alliance of rebel groups. Internal divisions also have emerged within the senior leadership, and Djotodia has fired several of his former top allies.

Djotodia has agreed to hold elections by the end of the year, according to Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye. The American ambassador to the United Nations has urged his interim government to step aside following that vote.

"It is extremely important that the president, the prime minister and the head of the council have all agreed to relinquish power as soon as elections occur," Samantha Power said during her visit to Bangui last month.

Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Rebecca Blackwell in Bangui, Central African Republic, contributed to this report.

Follow Krista Larson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/klarsonafrica.

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