Voting on a referendum for a new constitution in the Central African Republic was extended to a second day after violence broke out Sunday killing five people.
The killings took place in a majority Muslim enclave of the capital city Bangui. Young people in the area where the violence broke out complained that it was perpetrated by supporters of rebel leader Abdoulaye Hissene. The voters said the wanted a peaceful vote so they can go about their business.
“This has to stop,” a young vendor, Mustapha Younous, told the AFP, as people cheered around him. “If Abdoulaye Hissene (and associates) wants to do politics they can do it somewhere else. We are businessmen and we want to do business!”
Another 20 people were wounded, several seriously, in Sunday’s fighting, the Red Cross said.
The country has been troubled by sectarian violence for the past three years after Muslim rebels seized power in a coup. This led to reprisal attacks by militias representing the Christian majority. Thousands of people have been killed and one-fifth of the county’s population of five million has been displaced.
Two successive interim governments as well as thousands of U.N. and French peacekeepers have struggled to stop the fighting and disarm militias. The Pope visited the country just last month and asked for calm and cooperation between Christians and Muslims.
Voting on Monday proceeded with a strong turnout and the streets of the capital were calm.However in the north there were reports that Muslim rebels had halted the vote. UN special envoy Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, praised the voters for their “courage”, saying they overcame “all fears and threats” to cast their ballots.
“The Central Africans took a historic step in their march towards greater democracy,” he said.
The UN and France, the former colonial ruler of CAR, are encouraging the country to continue the voting process. The referendum is a precursor to general elections planned for December 27.
The proposed constitution would limit presidential tenure to two terms, fight institutional corruption and rein in the armed militias, blamed for years of chaos and terror.
Gervais Lacosso, the coordinator of the Civil Society Working Group in CAR, is hopeful that the December 27 elections will proceed peacefully.
“We want to tell the population that the moment has finally arrived for them to vote. This is a big responsibility. We cannot let ourselves be intimidated,” he said.