Rebels in Central African Republic expel government ministers

By Crispin Dembassa-Kette BANGUI (Reuters) - A grouping of former Seleka rebels in Central African Republic said on Sunday it had expelled from its ranks several members serving in a new government seeking to stop a cycle of deadly clashes between Muslims and Christians. The decision casts doubt on the future of the new cabinet and could prove a major setback for efforts aiming to end violence that has killed thousands, forced a million to flee their homes and split the country in two. "The ex-Seleka coalition neither supported nor put forward the names of the prime minister or ministers," the group's vice-president Nouredine Adam wrote in a statement. "As a result, all members of the ex-Seleka coalition having participated in the present government are definitively excluded," he wrote. The former French colony has been gripped by violence since Michel Djotodia led Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels and some fighters from neighboring Chad and Sudan, in an assault on the capital Bangui and seized power in March 2013. Seleka's rule was marked by abuses that prompted a backlash from the 'anti-balaka' Christian militia. Cycles of tit-for-tat violence continued despite Djotodia's resignation from the presidency in January. Most Muslims have fled the south of the country, creating a de facto partition. Some members of the Seleka leadership have pushed for this to be formalized. Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza this month named Mahamat Kamoun, a Muslim and former head of cabinet to Djotodia, as prime minister. He named three Seleka members to his 30-member cabinet, but the armed group rejected the government's composition, claiming it had not been consulted. The government's formation has also sparked criticism among other political groupings. The Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People - the party of former prime minister Martin Ziguele - announced on Sunday that it too was expelling its member serving in the government. Some 2,000 French and 6,000 Africa Union peacekeepers have been deployed but they have struggled to help Samba-Panza's weak transitional government stamp its authority on the mineral-rich country. A 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force is due to start deploying next month. (Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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