16 August 2013

Central African Republic: UN Mulls Options in Central African Republic Crisis

Photo: voice of America
Central African Republic's new President Michel Djotodia speaks to his supporters at a rally in favor of the Seleka rebel coalition in downtown Bangui Mar. 30, 2013.

In the Central African Republic, Michel Djotodia, who came to power in a coup five months ago, will be inaugurated as president on Sunday. The United Nations says the country is on the brink of collapse.

On March 24, 2013, rebels from Seleka, a recently formed alliance of militias, toppled president Francois Bozize, who himself had seized power in a coup back in 2003.

Bozize fled Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), for Cameroon. The rebels appointed an interim government and their leader Michel Djotodia declared himself interim president. Five months later, the country is in chaos with widespread looting, murder and sexual violence.

Gervais Lakosso, who works for a local human rights group, told Deutsche Welle that the regime supports the perpetrators of such crimes. But he added, "they are members of Seleka and they could be kept under control."

Michel Djotodia agreed in April to hold elections in 18 months time

Attacks on the civilian population are frequent in Bangui. Andreas Mehler, expert on Central Africa at the Leibniz Institute for Global and Regional Studies in Hamburg, said all the country's major socio-economic problems have got worse. "This applies to malnutrition, the absence of health care and the mortality rate. Children can't go to school. About 1.6 million out of a population of 4.6 million are dependent on direct aid," he told DW.

Even though the country is rich in natural resources such as diamonds, gold and uranium, it is one of the poorest places on earth. Internal conflicts within Seleka would hinder attempts to lift the country out of poverty. The rebel alliance is split into factions and they don't take orders from each other.

CAR - a failed state?

The interim government is unable to stem the violence. Djotodia evidently finds the post of interim president challenging, but nonetheless he will be taking the oath of office on Sunday (18.08.2013). He wants to hold elections in 18 months time.

Seleka rebels pose in a vehicle left behind by South African soldiers, 13 of whom were killed in the March coup

Mehler said that external logistical support would be needed for a nationwide poll and in the past this has been provided either by French troops or a UN mission. "But it is important to keep on insisting that the election will take place on the date he announced, so that he can be voted out of office if necessary," he added.

UN aid chief Valerie Amos told the UN Security Council that the CAR was at risk of becoming a failed state.

She urged the Security Council to support the African Union's peacekeeping efforts there. This month the AU rolled an existing 1,100-strong regional peacekeeping mission, known as MICOPAX, into a new large AU peacekeeping force. The plan is to more than triple the number of troops to 3,600.

Sanctions as possible answer to atrocities

The new force, known as International Support Mission to Central Africa (MISCA), has an AU mandate to protect civilians, help stabilize the country and restore government. The AU has requested financial, logistical and technical support for the mission. Its starting date is uncertain.

Francois Bozize will try regain power "if the opportunity presents itself"

In a statement after its meeting, the Security Council said it was considering all potential options to stabilize CAR.

It did not specify what the potential options might be, but a recent report by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recommended sanctions against officials suspected of committing atrocities.

The CAR crisis, the Security Council underlined, posed a threat to the "stability of the CAR and the region."

It also highlighted "grave concern" about a deterioration in the humanitarian situation. The crisis has forced 60,000 people to flee CAR for neighboring countries and has displaced more than 200,000.

The International Federation for Human Rights said last month it had documented at least 400 murders by Seleka-affiliated groups since March. Barring a few arrests in Bangui, all those killings have gone unpunished.

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