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Published: Sunday May 11, 2014 MYT 3:40:02 AM
Updated: Sunday May 11, 2014 MYT 3:41:39 AM

Central African Republic's Seleka rebels pick new commander, say to regroup

BANGUI (Reuters) - Central African Republic's former Seleka rebel coalition has appointed a new army commander and plans to regroup its scattered fighters, a spokesman said on Saturday, a move that could further deepen divisions in the war-torn country.

The former French colony descended into chaos after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March last year and their abuses against the majority Christian population set off a wave of revenge attacks, killing thousands.

Seleka leaders were forced to resign under international pressure in January but Christian militias known as "anti-balaka" have intensified attacks against Muslims.

Hundreds of Seleka rebels as well as Muslim civilians have fled Bangui and the south to the north and neighbouring countries, raising fears of a de-facto north-south partition of the country along religious lines.

In Bambari, a town near the dividing line separating the Christian south and mostly Muslim north, which the rebels have chosen as headquarters, many are advocating for a partition although Seleka leaders are divided on the issue.

General Joseph Zindeko was appointed army chief by a Seleka congress that gathered more than 500 officers and officials in Ndele, about 650 km (400 miles) north of the capital Bangui on Friday, Colonel Djouma Narkoyo said.

"The objective of the Seleka General Staff is to bring together all Seleka combatants and restructure because at the moment they are scattered," Narkoyo told Reuters by telephone.

He added that the coalition's general staff would decide on the creation of a political wing.

"We also want to better secure our area and protect people in the eight districts we control," Narkoyo said.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in the tit-for-tat violence and another 1 million of the country's 4.5 million people have been displaced despite the presence of several thousand African peacekeepers, European Union and French troops.

The United Nations has warned that the conflict could spiral into a genocide.

(Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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