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Central African Republic inks peace deal with armed groups

FLORENT VERGNES/AFP | A militiaman, stands guard at the entrance of the headquarters of the Muslim 'self-defence force' in the PK5 district of Bangui, Nov. 15, 2017.

The government of the Central African Republic and 14 armed groups inked a new peace accord in Sudanese capital, Khartoum on Tuesday to end years of fighting that has left thousands of people dead.

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The accord, the seventh since 2012, was initialled by President Faustin Archange Touadera for the CAR government, an AFP correspondent reported.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who hosted the talks in Khartoum sponsored by the African Union and the United Nations that culminated in the agreement, was also present at the ceremony. Talks began January 24 in Khartoum.

The impoverished, landlocked nation has been rocked by violence since 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted then president François Bozizé, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias and interreligious, intercommunal fighting.

UN peacekeepers were deployed in 2014. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in a conflict that has sent two people to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The fighting has carried the high risk of genocide, the UN has warned. The conflict has uprooted more than a million people, according to the UN, and has spiraled into a civil war. Scores of mosques have been burned, and priests and other religious leaders killed.

The vicious fighting in a country known more for coups than interreligious violence was so alarming that Pope Francis made a bold visit in 2015, removing his shoes and bowing his head at the Central Mosque in the last remaining Muslim neighbourhood of the capital, Bangui.

"Together we say 'no' to hatred," the pope said.

Gold, diamonds and uranium

The violence has never disappeared, intensifying and spreading last year after a period of relative peace as armed groups battled over lands rich in gold, diamonds and uranium.

After more than 40 people were killed in a rebel attack on a displaced persons camp in November, both the leader of the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission and the country's prime minister both acknowledged shortcomings in the response. "I knew that we did not have all the necessary means to protect our people," the prime minister said.

In a grim report last year marking five years of the conflict, the UN children's agency said fighters often target civilians rather than each other, attacking health facilities and schools, mosques and churches and camps for displaced people.

At least half of the more than 640,000 people displaced are children, it said, and thousands are thought to have joined the armed groups, often under pressure.

As the peace talks began last month, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned of "catastrophe" if no agreement was reached, saying repeated cycles of violence in one of the world's poorest nations had "pushed people’s resistance to breaking point".

A majority of Central African Republic's 2.9 million people urgently need humanitarian support, the group said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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