BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The former rebel leader who seized power in the Central African Republic and became president before heading into exile, returned to the country's capital on Friday.
Michel Djotodia, who has been in exile in Benin since 2014, said he returned to support a peace process that was launched by authorities. His return comes weeks after the president he overthrew, Francois Bozize, also returned.
"It is my duty to come and support the people of the Central African Republic and their government. And not only that, I am no longer a former president or a man of war, I am one of the permanent ambassadors for the promotion of universal peace,” he said upon his return.
“I am and will be the last rebel. There will be no more rebellion and whoever tries to rebel, to further annoy the people of the Central African Republic, he will fail.”
Djotodia was the leader of the Seleka rebel group and took power as the Central African Republic’s first Muslim ruler in 2013. During his 10-month-rule the country descended into violence. The rebel coalition’s rule was so cruel that it led to the rise of another armed group, the anti-Balaka, and a brutal sectarian conflict.
The rebel coalition known as Seleka was made up mostly of Muslim rebels who had long complained of being marginalized by Bozize and his government.
The anti-Balaka’s hatred of Seleka’s brutal rule eventually led to Muslim civilians being targeted en masse, with tens of thousands being forced from the capital in 2014. Mosques were destroyed, and Muslims were beaten to death in the streets and their bodies mutilated.
Relatively peaceful elections were later held in 2016, though violence remains widespread outside the capital.
Djotodia was received by the current President Faustin Archange Touadera on Friday.
The return of both Djotodia and Bozize comes the same year the country is due to hold its presidential elections, sparking fears in the politically fragile country that the two divisive figures could still harbor political ambitions.