BANGUI (Reuters) - Central African Republic lawmakers shortlisted eight candidates, including two sons of former presidents, on Sunday to become interim leader and pull the country out of months of turmoil and factional killings.
The members of a transitional assembly were expected to select one as president on Monday after former leader Michel Djotodia resigned under international pressure over his failure to end the bloodshed.
Whoever gets the job will face the challenge of rebuilding one of Africa’s most fractured nations - torn apart by a conflict that a senior U.N. official warned last week could slip into genocide.
The landlocked former French colony descended into chaos in March after a mostly Muslim rebel coalition, Seleka, marched into the capital, unleashing a wave of killings and looting.
That triggered revenge attacks by Christian militia known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete).
Seleka and the anti-balaka groups have continued to launch sporadic tit-for-tat killings, despite the presence of 1,600 French troops and nearly 5,000 African Union peacekeepers.
Transitional assembly vice president Lea Koyassoum Doumta told journalists the candidates included Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza; Desiré Kolingba, son of former president Andre Kolingba; and businessman Sylvain Patasse, son of ex-president Ange-Felix Patasse.
To qualify, the candidates had to show they had no link to Seleka, or the forces behind the “anti-balaka” militia.
But many have had first hand experience of the nation’s political turmoil, particularly the former presidents’ sons.
General Andre Kolingba seized power in a 1981 military coup and ruled the country until 1993 when he was defeated by Ange-Felix Patasse in a democratic election. He died in Paris in February 2010.
Patasse, ruled the country for two terms but consecutive mutinies within the army led to his ouster by former President Francois Bozize in 2003. He died in Cameroon in April 2011.
Central African republic has seen five coups and several rebellions since in won independence in 1960. It remains one of Africa’s poorest nations, for all its mineral riches.
In the latest sign of violence, two Muslims were killed in a revenge attack in Bangui on Sunday following the suspected kidnapping of a taxi driver by Seleka gunmen, residents said.
The remains of the one of the Muslims was dragged through the streets and stoned and stabbed and the second was set on fire while onlookers took pictures of the mob with their mobile phones.
“As long as Muslims continue, we will also continue to do so,” a man in the crowd who only gave his name as Yacinte, told Reuters.
More than a million people have fled the violence and more than 1,000 people were killed last month in the capital alone, according to U.N. figures.
European Union foreign ministers are expected to agree on Monday to send up to 1,000 soldiers to help stabilize the country.
The country is supposed to hold elections by February 2015, according to the terms of a regionally brokered peace plans that set up the governing National Transitional Council in March last year.
Reporting by Paul-Marin Ngoupana and Emmanuel Braun; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Andrew Heavens