UN to send peacekeepers after Central African Republic flare-up

At least 30 people, many of them civilians, died in clashes between Christian and Muslim militias this week

Anti-Balaka fighters show their weapons outside Bangui
(Image credit: Ivan Lieman/AFP/Getty Images)

THE United Nations has voted to send a 12,000-strong peacekeeping force to the Central African Republic after sectarian violence flared again this week.

At least 30 people died and 10 were wounded on Wednesday as fighters from the mainly Christian anti-Balaka militia attacked positions held by the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels in the central town of Dekoa.

According to reports, most of the people who died were civilians caught in the crossfire between the rival militia groups.

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The UN voted yesterday to send 12,000 peacekeepers to the sparsely populated nation of 4.5 million people. It also authorised 2,000 French troops to "use all necessary means" to support an African Union force of 6,000 troops already in the country.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "called on the international community not to let the CAR become 'another Rwanda in our time'," the BBC reported, referrring to the genocide which began in that country 20 years ago this week.

The Central African Republic descended into anarchy last December when attacks by anti-Balaka Christian militiamen unseated the Muslim-led government.

Muslim Seleka rebels had been in power since the overthrow of President Francois Bozize in March 2013. In the months that followed Bozize's fall, Seleka forces killed civilians, burned villages, and looted homes, Amnesty reports.

In response to the brutality, Christian anti-Balaka militiamen launched reprisal attacks on Seleka strongholds in the capital, Bangui. When the rebel government eventually collapsed in January, the anti-Balaka stepped up their assault, forcing tens of thousands of Muslims to leave the country.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay says that fighting in the country has now reached a "terrifying level".

Thousands have been killed in the conflict so far and the UN estimates that 1.3 million people – a quarter of the country's population – are in desperate need of aid.

Peacekeepers to treat CAR Christian militia as 'enemy combatants'

27 March

THE African Union said it will treat members of a Christian militia in the Central African Republic as enemy combatants, after a Congolese peacekeeper was killed on Monday.

The Anti-balaka militia has been accused of attacking Muslims and trying to drive them out of the country. Tens of thousands of people have fled amid violence between Christians and Muslims that UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has described as reaching a "terrifying level".

Twenty-one AU peacekeepers, known by their acronym Misca, have been killed while trying to contain the violence, the BBC reports.

"From now on, we consider the anti-balaka as enemies of Misca and we will treat them as such," General Mokoko told the AFP news agency. "They even fire on people who are here to try to end this crisis on behalf of the Central African people to which they belong," he added.

The Congolese AU peacekeeper died in fighting near Boali, 50 miles north of the capital Bangui. The soldiers fought back, killing 12 militiamen.

The AU has deployed 6,000 troops, and France added another 2,000 soldiers in support of peacekeeping effort in its former colony. So far, though, they have been unable to stop violence in the large, sparsely populated nation of 4.5 million people, Reuters reports.

The UN's World Food Programme estimates that 1.3 million people – a quarter of the country's population – are now in need of urgent aid.

Cannibalism and decapitations horrify Central African Republic

A senior UN official has called for urgent military reinforcements to help prevent a bloodbath in the Central African Republic.

Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights, said hatred between Christians and Muslims in the republic had now reached a "terrifying level".

Pillay said a new 12,000 strong force of UN peacekeepers was needed to stop acts of barbarism including decapitations and cannibalism of children. If left unchecked the situation could descend into genocide, she warned.

The African Union has deployed 6,000 troops, and France added another 2,000 soldiers in support of peacekeeping effort in its former colony. So far, though, they have been unable to stop violence in the large, sparsely populated nation of 4.5 million people, Reuters reports.

"The inter-communal hatred remains at a terrifying level, as evidenced by the extraordinarily vicious nature of the killings," Pillay told a news conference. "There is... almost total impunity: no justice, no law and order apart from that provided by foreign troops."

Pillay expressed genuine shock over horrific acts of violence she had come across in the CAR: "This has become a country where people are not just killed, they are tortured, mutilated, burned and dismembered – sometimes by spontaneous mobs as well as by organised groups of armed fighters," she said. "Children have been decapitated, and we know of at least four cases where the killers have eaten the flesh of their victims."

The violence "raises the prospect of another Rwandan-style genocide taking place on the African continent", the Daily Telegraph warns. To date, thousands have died in fighting across the region, and 1.3 million people – about a quarter of the country's population – have fled to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said that reinforcements could take up to six months to organise. But, according to the Telegraph, "if the UN wants to avoid having another bloodbath on its hands, then donor nations must be persuaded as a matter of urgency to provide the required troops, in order to prevent the country descending into all-out war".

How did the Central African Republic's conflict start?

The mineral-rich Central African Republic has been plagued by ethnic rivalry, sectarian clashes, civil war and violent coups since it gained independence from France in 1960. But the BBC reports that the recent conflict ‘is unprecedented’. It began in March last year when a coalition of Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, seized the capital Bangui and ousted President Francois Bozize, who was accused of neglecting the Muslim minority in the North and ignoring a previous power-sharing deal. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia took over as president, becoming the first Muslim to run the mostly Christian nation. Djotodia announced in September that Seleka had been dissolved, but “many of the rebels refused to disarm and leave the militias as ordered but veered further out of control”, the Observer’s Africa correspondent David Smith reports. Christian Central Africans have in turn formed a self-defence group called anti-balaka or “anti-machete” to protect themselves from the former Seleka rebels. Anti-balaka attacks on Muslim rebels have “been no less vicious than [those] made by the Seleka”, says Al Jazeera.

Clashes between the two groups escalated towards the end of the year with violent reprisals on both sides, forcing France and the African Union to deploy thousands of peacekeeping troops to the area. Djotodia resigned recently due to mounting pressure from the international community over his inability to halt months of sectarian violence. The UN describes an unfolding humanitarian disaster as more than 1,000 people were killed in December alone and almost a quarter of the population has now been displaced due to the conflict. According to a UN report, over half of the country’s population requires urgent humanitarian assistance.

Central African Republic 'no longer safe for Muslims'

18 March

TWO decades after the Rwandan genocide in which up to a million people died, the UN is warning that another bout of bloodshed is underway in central Africa.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, began a three-day tour of the Central African Republic today, where she will address “the dire human rights situation” affecting much of the country, in which Muslims have faced widespread violence.

Time magazine reports that “whole towns in the north and west of the country have been emptied or burned, with 300,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries like Chad and Cameroon.”

According to the Washington Post, representatives of 15 member states of the UN Security Council were told on Friday that “of the capital’s 36 mosques, just eight are left, and of the 375 mosques across the country as a whole, 118 have been destroyed.”

Yesterday it reported that mixed marriages between Christians and Muslims have been torn apart by the violence.

“Shadowed by fear, tens of thousands of Muslims have fled the country,” the paper reported. “Entire Muslim neighborhoods have emptied out, homes have been torched, bodies have been set afire in streets. As the exodus continues, more mixed families are likely to be shattered, UN officials and aid workers say.”

Speaking at an emergency meeting in New York earlier this month, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the Council that “since early December we have effectively witnessed a cleansing of the majority of the Muslim population in western CAR.”

“Tens of thousands of them have left the country,” he said, “and those who remain are under permanent threat.”

Guterres, formerly prime minister of Portugal, said that he could not remember any previous visit in his eight-year tenure at the UN that caused him such anguish.

“The demon of religious cleansing must be stopped now,” he said.

Central African Republic: new leader a ‘woman who can bring peace’

21 January

THE appointment of Catherine Samba-Panza as the interim president of the Central African Republic has raised hopes that the nation’s brutal factional conflict may be resolved.

Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of CAR’s capital Bangui, will be responsible for uniting the country, restoring security and paving the way to free and democratic elections later this year.

"I appeal to my anti-balaka and Seleka children to listen to me and lay down your weapons", she said.

Reuters reports that the appointment of a neutral leader with no ties to either side has “raised hopes of an end to the slaughter.” Although Samba-Panza was born in Chad, she has earned the support of CAR’s politicians and the public.

"She is a woman who can bring peace,” Sebastien Wenezoui, a fighter from the Christian militia group anti-balaka, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, the EU has pledged to deploy 500 troops to the region, the organisation’s first major army operation in six years.

Troops are expected to be deployed by the end of February, with a mission to secure the capital before handing over to African Union forces within six months. The composition of the force is yet to be decided, reports the Financial Times.

France currently has 1,600 troops involved in peace keeping efforts alongside some 4,000 African Union forces.

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