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Published: Wednesday May 7, 2014 MYT 1:37:02 AM
Updated: Wednesday May 7, 2014 MYT 1:38:40 AM

Central African Republic president says to make new government inclusive

BANGUI (Reuters) -

Central African Republic's interim president pledged on Tuesday to overhaul her government and make it more representative, addressing mounting criticism of its failure to stem religious violence that has displaced nearly 1 million people.

In a speech to mark her first 100 days in office, Catherine Samba-Panza acknowledged there was widespread anger at her government's lack of progress and accepted that her decision to appoint a majority of ministers from her own eastern region had stirred resentment in the former French colony.

Members of the powerful 'anti-balaka' Christian militia, which took up arms last year after Muslim Seleka rebels briefly seized power, say their movement is not represented in the transitional government and have refused to cooperate with it.

"The government will be reshuffled to be more inclusive and representative," Samba-Panza said in a speech to the National Transitional Council. "Voices are being raised to demand the urgent organisation of an inclusive political dialogue."

With international frustration also rising at her government's record, Samba-Panza said many of criticisms were "legitimate" but added that three months were not enough to respond to the scale of the challenge.

The landlocked country of 4.6 million people was plunged into chaos in March last year when the Seleka coalition swept southward to seize the riverside capital Bangui. This unleashed a wave of killings, rapes and looting against the majority Christian population during Seleka's 10 months in power.

Since Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigned under international pressure in January, the 'anti-balaka' have preyed on Muslims in Bangui and the country's southwest, despite the presence of some 6,000 African Union peacekeepers and 2,000 French troops.

Thousands have been killed and nearly 1 million people displaced by violence which has split the country along ethnic and religious lines, with the Seleka rebels controlling the northeast, where they are also accused of abuses.

"The proliferation of arms has created fears of mounting insecurity and criminality," Samba-Panza said. "There is rising anger and hatred in the hearts of the vast majority of the population."

The passivity of the armed forces and police in the face of the violence has sparked popular frustration. Concerns about anti-balaka infiltration of the army were highlighted when a group of soldiers lynched a Muslim outside a ceremony presided by Samba-Panza in early February.

Even in the capital, around 180,000 people remain displaced, scattered among camps and host families. The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people - or more than half the population - are in need of medical and food assistance.

Critics have said that, with the remote country lacking in strategic importance or major resources, Western nations have been slow to react to the crisis.

The United Nations says that donors have provided just over a quarter of the $550 million requested in an emergency humanitarian appeal. A long-requested 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force is not due to deploy before September.

In a sign of the scale of the security challenge, French peacekeepers killed several militants during a three-hour battle on Monday after coming under fire from some 40 heavily armed unidentified gunmen in the northwest of Central Afrcan Republic, an army official said.

(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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