Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - Hundreds of fighters from several militia groups in conflict-torn Central African Republic have laid down their weapons, the United Nations said on Wednesday, as the impoverished country struggles to end bloodshed among armed groups that control vast swathes of territory.
The nation, gripped by crisis since a 2013 coup, is striving to disarm and demobilise some 14 rebel groups as part of its latest peace efforts, which are supported by the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA.
So far, "five groups are already engaged in the process, disarming more than 450 fighters" in the west of the country, MINUSCA's deputy chief Kenneth Gluck told a press conference in the capital Bangui.
Among these he highlighted the Democratic Front of Central African People (FDPC), which he said had been "completely disarmed", adding that fighters of the Revolution and Justice (RJ) and the UFR-anti-Balaka militias had also given up arms.
He said the 3R militia group, blamed for the massacre of more than 50 civilians in May, has also pledged to lay down its arms.
The bloodshed in villages near the northwestern town of Paoua, close to the border with Chad, was the worst single loss of life since the government and the 14 militias signed the deal in February aimed at restoring peace to one of Africa's most troubled countries.
The largely Muslim Seleka ("alliance") coalition that ousted president Francois Bozize 2013 was officially dissolved the same year before fragmenting into separate groups including the 3R.
Nominally Christian militias called the anti-Balaka emerged in response to the coup, accelerating a cycle of sectarian violence.
UN envoy Mankeur Ndiaye stressed the importance of dialogue in ending the unrest, saying: "There is no military alternative to the Central African crisis."
With some 11,650 troops and 2,080 police deployed, according to the United Nations, MINUSCA's top priority is to protect civilians and stem the daily violence.
Former colonial power France intervened militarily from 2013 to 2016 to expel the Seleka, and then wound down the operation.