CAR president says he can't control armed groups

At least 400 people have been killed in days of violence that have rocked the central African country

French soldiers in an armored vehicle pass ex-Seleka rebels in truck as they patrol in front of the presidential palace in Bangui on Dec. 8, 2013.
Sia Kambou/AFP Getty Images

The president of the Central African Republic told Al Jazeera Saturday that he can't control the armed groups operating in his country, after a wave of violence left hundreds of people dead over the last few days.

"It is too much to say I have no control. I control my men. The men I can't control are not my men," said Djotodia, who came to power after a mainly-Muslim armed group now known as Seleka overthrew President Francois Bozize earlier this year. 

The mostly Muslim former rebels who control the country are patrolling neighborhoods across the capital of Bangui, despite an order to return to their barracks.

The Red Cross says 400 bodies have been found after three days of fighting between Seleka and a largely-Christian armed group named Anti-Balaka ("anti-machete", the weapon of choice of many Seleka fighters).

Meanwhile, thousands more international troops are on their way to the embattled country. The African Union has around 2,500 troops there now, but is increasing that to 6,000. In addition, the 1,200 French troops on the ground have been bolstered by the arrival of 400 more soldiers.

On Saturday, the country's interim authorities ordered all forces except foreign peacekeepers and the presidential guard off the streets of Bangui, after a hospital in the capital was attacked by Seleka rebels.

The gunmen reportedly pulled injured victims from Bangui's Amitie hospital, and shot dead at least 10. The hospital has since been abandoned.

Al Jazeera has learned that the Anti-Balaka group contains elements of Bozize's army, and is regrouping outside the capital, awaiting reinforcements.

French President Francois Hollande also said on Saturday it would be difficult for the current head of the Central African Republic to stay in place because he let the crisis there unfold.

"I don't want to point fingers but we cannot keep in place a president who was not able to do anything, or even worse, who let things happen," Hollande said in an interview broadcast on the France 24 TV channel.

He said elections should be held before 2015 when Djotodia's mandate ends. "The idea is to head as fast as possible towards elections," he said.

French forces started deploying to the north and west of the country to secure main roads and towns outside the capital, French army spokesman Gilles Jarron said on Saturday.

"Peacekeepers are patrolling the main roads. This is helping keep the looting down. But the atrocities are inside the neighborhoods," said Amy Martin, head of the U.N. office for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"If they can get into the neighborhoods, we might start seeing a reduction in these crimes. The level of atrocities and the lack of humanity, the senseless killing defies imagination," Martin said.

The latest bloodshed started on Thursday as armed Christians from Anti-Balaka raided Muslim neighborhoods, in a country that has been seeing tit-for-tat violence between rival armed groups since Bozize's downfall in March.

Djotodia, who was leader of the Seleka rebel alliance, has struggled to control his loose band of fighters, many from neighboring Chad and Sudan.

French troops rumbled into their former colony on Friday, trying to stop violence in the capital and to stabilize the country after the U.N. Security Council authorized Paris to use force to help African peacekeepers.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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