DAKAR (Reuters) - The 'anti-balaka' militia in Central African Republic, formed in response to abuses by mostly Muslim rebels who seized power last year, said it would lay down its weapons and become a political movement.
Representatives for the mostly Christian militia movement decided at a general assembly in the capital Bangui late on Saturday that their movement would be renamed the Central african Party for Unity and Development (PCUD).
Leaders of the anti-balaka movement - which is popular with many in southern Central African Republic - have for several months aspired to turn the militia into a political movement ahead of presidential and legislative elections next year.
"We pledge to look forward, as responsible individuals concerned for a better future for Central African Republic and its people," said Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, a businessman and coordinator of the anti-balaka movement.
"From today, no member of the anti-balaka should use weapons, for any reason. Our arms must all be buried,"
The international community, led by former colonial power, has called for the warring factions in Central African Republic to become more directly involved in the political process. The audience for Ngaissona's announcement included diplomats and senior government officials.
Ngaissona did not say who would be the party's candidate for next year's presidential vote, meant to draw a line under a democratic transition.
He said that anyone who broke the ceasefire order would be prosecuted in the courts. Central African Republic's creaking judicial and prison system has been completely overwhelmed by the abuses committed since Seleka swept down from their northern strongholds to Bangui in March 2013.
Thousands of people have been killed in sectarian violence since the 'anti-balaka' took up arms in September 2013 in response to months of killings, looting and rape by Seleka forces, many of them from neighboring Chad and Sudan.
Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigned as president in January, ceding power to a transitional government, but simmering violence has continued. Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to a northern enclave controlled by Seleka, effectively dividing the country along religious lines.
Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky