BANGUI (Reuters) - Armed groups and politicians in Central African Republic boycotted the start of a political forum this week, dealing a blow to attempts to get an election process back on track.
Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza called for the discussions, which began on Tuesday, partly to discuss elections scheduled for October 18 but which are expected to be postponed for technical and security reasons.
The former French colony has been torn by bloodshed since 2013 and authorities are struggling to disarm militias despite a peace agreement in May. A surge in violence in the capital Bangui last month sparked by the murder of a Muslim man killed 77 people and injured 400.
“We categorically refuse these meetings called by a government that is clan-like, sectarian and incompetent,” said Ahmat Nejad of Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC), a faction of the mostly Muslim Seleka militia.
An official at a party linked to the main Christian militia, the anti-balaka, also said his Party for Unity and Development (PCUD) group would not participate.
About 10 political parties of the country’s 50, including some led by presidential candidates, also boycotted the talks which Samba-Panza said were aimed at “restoring dialogue, discussions and the search for consensus”.
“This is just another example of political fraud, just like the Bangui Forum,” the 10 groups said in a statement on Tuesday, referring to the talks that preceded the May peace deal.
The talks are set to continue until Oct. 21.
France threatened last week to push for sanctions at the UN Security Council for new individuals who were considered to be blocking the political transition.
Central African Republic has been in turmoil since Seleka fighters briefly seized power in the majority Christian country in 2013. While they later handed power over to an interim government, Seleka still control vast swathes of the north.
At the weekend, French and U.N. troops based in the country halted a rebel march towards Bangui, clashing with a faction of Seleka fighters.
The international community is pressing for Central African Republic to go ahead with an election intended to restore democratic governance by the end of this year, despite widespread lawlessness.
Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Ralph Boulton