Obama pleads for peace in strife-torn Central African Republic

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As the U.S. military prepares to transport peacekeeping troops to the Central African Republic, President Obama Monday taped a message urging its citizens to stop the violence between Christian and Muslim forces.

“This is President Barack Obama, and today I want to speak directly to you — the people of the Central African Republic,” said the message, recorded when Mr. Obama’s flight to South Africa stopped for refueling in Senegal. “The awful violence of recent days threatens the country you love. Today, my message to you is simple: it doesn’t have to be this way.”

The White House national security council said the audio message for broadcast in the Central African Republic is intended to encourage citizens there to “move together toward a future of security, dignity, and peace.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday ordered the U.S. military to transport troops from Burundi into the Central African Republic to help quell the latest upsurge in violence there. He approved the order at the request of the French defense minister.

There are more than 1,000 French troops in the Central African Republic, where Christian armed fighters launched an attack on the capital last week.

The fighters oppose the Muslim ex-rebels now in charge of the former French colony. About 400 people were killed last week in the capital of Bangui.

In his recorded message, Mr. Obama said he understands how the people have “faced great hardship.”

“But I also know that you’ve lived together in peace — as diverse and vibrant communities, Christian and Muslim,” Mr. Obama said. “Together, you realize that we are all children of God and that — whatever our faith — we all deserve to live in peace and dignity. Respected leaders in your communities — Muslim and Christian — are calling for calm and peace. I call on the transitional government to join these voices and to arrest those who are committing crimes. Individuals who are engaging in violence must be held accountable—in accordance with the law.”

He added, “Meanwhile, as forces from other African countries and France work to restore security, the United States will support their efforts to protect civilians.”

“You can choose peace,” the president said.

Mr. Obama recorded the message while en route to South Africa to attend a memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela.

Based in part on wire service reports.

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