BANGUI (Reuters) - Central African Republic lawmakers shortlisted eight candidates, including two sons of former leaders, to run for interim president in a vote on Monday and pull the country out of months of turmoil and sectarian killings.
Whoever is chosen will face the challenge of ending a cycle of violence that on Sunday saw crowds kill two men they said were Muslims and drag their bodies through the streets of the capital Bangui, then set them on fire.
The Red Cross also said it had buried around 50 bodies within the past 48 hours after fighting flared in the northwest.
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.
A senior U.N. official warned last week the conflict could slip into genocide.
Members of the transitional assembly were expected to select one of the candidates as interim president on Monday after former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigned as president under international pressure over his failure to end the bloodshed.
Assembly vice president Lea Koyassoum Doumta said the eight 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.
A crowd set upon two men they said were Muslims in Bangui on Sunday after hearing reports a taxi driver had been kidnapped by Seleka gunmen, residents said.
The remains of one of the men was stoned and stabbed, said witnesses.
Both bodies were taken to a roundabout in the centre of the city and set alight before French peacekeepers arrived at the scene.
“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.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said fresh inter-communal violence had flared in the west and northwest, without giving exact details of when.
“Red Cross staff and volunteers have buried some 50 bodies discovered in the area around Bossembélé, Boyali and Boali,” its statement read.
“Much of the population, in danger of reprisals and with no-one to protect them, have fled their homes and are hiding in the bush,” it added.
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 were expected to agree on Monday to send up to 1,000 soldiers to help stabilise the country.
Central African Republic is supposed to hold elections by February 2015, according to the terms of 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