BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — A gathering of hundreds of Muslim fighters who once controlled Central African Republic has chosen a new leader, one rebel said Friday, amid fears the movement is gathering strength again.
The group known as Seleka appointed Gen. Joseph Zindeko, who was once commander of a rebel base in the capital, the new head of the movement, according to Col. Mahamat Deya.
Seleka was forced from power in January nearly a year after its fighters overthrew the president. Christian militias have sprung up, saying they are seeking revenge for atrocities committed during Seleka's rule and plunging the country into sectarian violence.
Around 2,000 French troops and nearly 5,000 African peacekeepers are trying to stabilize Central African Republic, a country about the size of Texas.
The rebels say their gathering this week is intended to help them create a political wing so they can participate in reconciliation talks. They have been in disarray since they were forced from power, but have recently begun to regroup in the north and have staged a series of attacks on towns in recent weeks. Last week, a group of Seleka rebels opened fired at a hospital in the country's northwest, killing more than a dozen people.
On Friday, Alain Kocsis, a local human rights activist, said around 5,000 people are sheltering at a Catholic church in the town of Grimari, after fleeing their villages following attacks by armed men. Residents say the attackers were Seleka rebels, although a Seleka representative said they were Muslim herders seeking revenge for theft of their cattle by Christian militias.