Obama calls for calm in Central African Republic

President Obama on Monday urged the citizens of the Central African Republic to “choose a different path” amid the latest round of sectarian violence gripping the nation.

“We know from the bitter experience of other countries what happens when societies descend into violence and retribution,” Obama said in an audio message taped as Air Force One refueled in Dakar, Senegal. “Today, my message to you is simple: It doesn’t have to be this way.”

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Fighting between Christians and Muslims has lead to more than 400 deaths over the past two days, according to The Associated Press.

Obama noted that religious leaders from both sides have called “for calm and peace.”

“Every citizen of the Central African Republic can show the courage that’s needed right now,” Obama said. “You can show your love for your country by rejecting the violence that would tear it apart. You can choose peace.”

Earlier Monday, Defense Secretary Chick Hagel ordered the U.S. military to help transport international troops to the country in a bid to quell the violence. 

This spring, an alliance of rebel forces seized power, installing President Michel Djotodia. The mostly Muslim fighters carried out a monthslong rampage of looting, raping and killing, according to The Associated Press.

Christian militias have now launched a counteroffensive against Djotodia, leading to more bloodshed. Last week, the United Nations Security Council voted to intervene and restore order within the country.

Obama called on Djotodia’s government to arrest those who are committing crimes.

“Individuals who are engaging in violence must be held accountable — in accordance with the law,” Obama said.

The president’s stop in Senegal came as he travelled to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial service. He was joined aboard Air Force One by first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush, his wife Laura, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.