Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, Jul 24, 2014 / 23:03 pm
Rival factions in the Central African Republic signed a ceasefire on Wednesday in hopes of halting the deadly violence, but it is unclear whether it will be effective.
"We have signed this ceasefire agreement today in front of everyone. Our commitment is firm and irreversible," Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane, who represented the Seleka faction, said July 23.
Patrick Edouard Ngaissona, head of the anti-Balaka negotiating team, said anyone caught violating the ceasefire would be arrested, the BBC reports.
The agreement was signed after three days of talks in the neighboring Republic of the Congo. The predominantly Muslim Seleka forces dropped their demand that the Central African Republic be split into a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Members of the Seleka delegation failed to attend the second day of talks, the Associated Press reports.
Violence broke out in Central African Republic in December 2012. Seleka rebels, loosely organized groups that drew primarily Muslim fighters from other countries, ousted the president and installed their own leader in a March 2013 coup.
The Seleka were officially disbanded, but its members continued to commit such crimes as pillaging, looting, rape, and murder.
In September 2013, after 10 months of terrorism at the hands of the Seleka, anti-balaka self-defense groups began to form. The anti-balaka picked up momentum in November, and the conflict in the nation took on a sectarian character, as some anti-balaka, many of whom are Christian, began attacking Muslims out of revenge for the Seleka's acts.
After international pressure and resistance from the anti-balaka, Djotodia stepped down as president in January 2014.
Soon after, a national council elected an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian who has appealed for an end to bloodshed from both sides yet has proven unable to quell the bloodshed.
The nation is now in the midst of continuing conflict among political, tribal, and religious groups, which the ceasefire aims to end.
Thousands have been killed, more than 1.1 million displaced, and millions more are without assurance of food or safety. The presence of some 7,000 international peacekeepers has failed to end the violence.
Catholic institutions have provided refuge to displaced Christians and Muslims alike; such as the 700 Muslims sheltered at St. Peter's parish in Boali in January and February, before they were evacuated, and the 800 given refuge by Fr. Justin Nary in Carnot.
Before the outbreak of violence 20 months ago, Christians and Muslims in Central African Republic coexisted peacefully. According to Aid to the Church in Need's section for Africa, Christine du Coudray, many of the Seleka are not Central Africans, but come from Chad or Sudan.
Most Central Africans are Christian, though significant minorities practice indigenous religions or Islam.
Earlier this year, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui wrote that "for many years, the people of the Central African Republic have lived in harmony; we have known brotherhood – this communion among communities."
"The upheaval and violence has brought division, death, suffering, the destruction of the other," he lamented. "Now the time has come to open our hearts more widely still, so that God can give us a new dynamism -- fill up our hearts so that we will be able to offer our hand to others, in love, and to begin life together anew."
The conflict has continued, however. Both side have faced accusations of war crimes. Muslims have fled Bangui and most of the west of the country; Christians have had to leave their homes as well.
Some Muslim combatants and civilians told the BBC they believe the ceasefire is worthless.
On Thursday suspected anti-balaka fighters ambushed two ex-Seleka fighters in the central town of Bambari, killing one.
The transitional government aims to hold national elections by February 2015, despite the violence.