A sustained international focus was needed to eradicate the multitude of threats that had blighted Central Africa for years -- from the security crisis in the Central African Republic, to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, to the unrelenting terrorist threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) -- the senior United Nations official in the region told the Security Council today.
Abou Moussa, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), alerted delegates to the urgent need to address the crisis in the Central African Republic before it spread out of control. The Transitional Government's inability to control Séléka elements had led to tensions with neighbouring Cameroon, as well as border closures, which had reduced vital bilateral economic activity. Cross-border refugee flows were straining a subregion already struggling to cope with multitudes of displaced persons, he added.
Moreover, the incidence of piracy and armed robbery in the "inconsistently controlled" Gulf of Guinea had surpassed that occurring in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, he continued. Terrorism and extremism also threatened the subregion, with the Nigeria-based militant group Boko Haram having exploited the porous and poorly secured border between their country and Cameroon.
He went on to say that UNOCA continued to guide State deliberations on subregional security challenges, while joint diplomatic efforts with the African Union Special Envoy for LRA Issues had ensured cooperation among the countries affected by that group's activities. Recent attacks in South Sudan attributed to LRA were a reminder that the group remained a "serious and unpredictable" threat. UNOCA would update the implementation plan for the United Nations regional strategy to address LRA, with a view to identifying the most critical needs and funding gaps.
Following that briefing, delegates stressed the present time was pivotal for the Central African subregion, especially following the recent decision by 23 March Movement rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to lay down their weapons. While LRA continued to exploit every opportunity to regroup, the goal of eradicating the threat it posed was within reach. Several speakers urged UNOCA to advance progress in delivering across the entire regional strategy, so that LRA could be permanently eradicated.
Highlighting such progress, Francisco Madeira, African Union Special Envoy for LRA Issues, recalled that in January, key mission documents for the Regional Task Force had been adopted, including the Standard Operating Procedures for the Handling of Persons Suspected of Involvement in LRA Activities. On 13 February, the Congolese Armed Forces had handed over 500 troops to the Task Force. "These two events marked the end of the first phase of the operationalization of the Regional Task Force," he said.
However, a major setback had occurred with the 24 March coup d'état in the Central African Republic, which LRA had exploited to reorganize, step up cross-border movements, attack villages and displace civilians, he continued. Since then, the Task Force had undergone retraining and counter-LRA rehearsals, facilitated by the United States special forces, which had paved the way for resumed military operations by the Task Force on 9 August.
The representative of the United States said that such efforts would have impacts beyond LRA. Commending the African Union's Regional Task Force for ramping up operations and increasing cooperation, he said that had exerted unprecedented pressure on LRA, fragmenting its forces. UNOCA had the vital role of coordinating United Nations activities in the region and must be supported with the necessary staff and resources, he emphasized.
Other speakers stressed that tackling piracy would save countless lives and usher the region towards the prosperity that its people deserved. Theyurged Central African leaders, and their counterparts in West Africa, to implement the decisions taken at the Yaoundé Summit with a view to enhancing maritime security through an interregional approach.
Togo's representative underscored that the defeat of the 23 March Movement in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo was due in part to the new United Nations strategy for re-establishing peace, security and cooperation in that country and in the wider Great Lakes region.
Rwanda's representative similarly commended the "awakened spirit of ownership and cooperation" among leaders in the region, stressing that Central Africa must be stabilized because it was a yardstick for the rest of the continent.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, Republic of Korea, Australia, France, Morocco, Russian Federation, Pakistan, Argentina, Luxembourg, Guatemala and China.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:05 p.m.
Meeting this morning to consider the Central African region, the Security Council had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) and on Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)-affected areas (document S/2013/671).
ABOU MOUSSA, Special Representative and Head of UNOCA, presented the Secretary-General's report, saying that the situation prevailing in the region was marked by instability in the Central African Republic and the spread of armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The humanitarian and human rights situation in the former country was worsening significantly, and political transition arrangements were "tenuous". There was an urgent need to address that crisis before it spread out of control and led to more loss of life. As for the latter country, although the defeat of the 23 March Movement had been a victory, no peace agreement had been signed and armed rebels continued to threaten local communities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Highlighting three key threats in the region, he said insecurity and instability in the Central African Republic continued to have security and humanitarian implications for neighbouring countries. The Government's inability to control Séléka elements had led to tensions with Cameroon and border closures, which had reduced vital bilateral economic activity. Cross-border refugee flows from the Central African Republic were straining the capacity of a subregion already struggling to cope with multitudes of displaced persons. In addition, transnational crime was a serious challenge to security in Central Africa, he said, noting that there was a higher incidence of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea than in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. Pirates and armed robbers thrived in such "inconsistently controlled" trans-boundary waters, he noted.
Central African countries were also vulnerable to destabilization from the looming threats posed by terrorism and extremism outside the immediate subregion, he continued. Chadian peacekeepers, deployed to support the African-led and subsequent United Nations mission in Mali, had been the target of recent terrorist attacks in Tessalit, while the Nigeria-based militant group Boko Haram had exploited the porous and poorly secured border between their country and Cameroon. The conflict between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram had driven an estimated 8,000 refugees into Cameroon, some of whom were suspected insurgents, he said.
On the critical issue of maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, he said UNOCA, alongside the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), had been a driving force in collective efforts to combat it. Central African Heads of State and Government, with their counterparts in West Africa, had adopted the Yaoundé Declaration, establishing a coherent inter-regional approach to combating piracy and other criminal activities. That "milestone" achievement reflected the cooperation among the coastal and landlocked States affected and with three organizations across the two subregions. As the secretariat of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa, UNOCA continued to guide State deliberations on subregional security challenges. During the Committee's thirty-sixth session in Kigali, Rwanda, member States had agreed that poaching, or illegally killing elephants for the purpose of selling their ivory was a direct security threat.
Returning to the topic of the Lord's Resistance Army, he said joint diplomatic efforts with Francisco Madeira, African Union Special Envoy on LRA, had ensured continuing cooperation among countries affected by the group's activities. Operations of the relevant African Union Regional Task Force had resumed in the Central African Republic, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo had lifted border restrictions on operations conducted by foreign contingents. However, recent attacks in South Sudan attributed to LRA were a reminder that the group remained a "serious and unpredictable" threat, he said, urging continuing vigilance in advancing the implementation plan for the United Nations regional strategy to address LRA's impact.
Going forward, UNOCA would continue its institutional strengthening work with the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in the area of mediation, he said. It would also take the lead on the issue of maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, working with UNOWA to carry out the decisions taken at the Yaoundé Summit. Also on the horizon were a counter-terrorism strategy for Central Africa, and a final proposal on mobilizing resources for a regional youth employment forum. As for LRA, UNOCA would continue its close partnership with the African Union and update the regional strategy implementation plan, with a view to identifying the most critical needs and funding gaps.
He said it would also enhance coordination mechanisms to ensure that collective efforts had the greatest impact. UNOCA would focus on strengthening regional cooperation, with a high-level summit to be held on the LRA issue. A visa-free travel regime favouring five of the six member countries of the Monetary and Economic Community of Central Africa would go into effect in January. It would reflect the "gravitational pull" towards greater subregional integration. "These are encouraging trends and should be sustained," he said. UNOCA would capitalize on those developments by redoubling its efforts to advance security, in close collaboration with States and subregional organizations.
DOUGLAS WILSON ( United Kingdom) said UNOCA must continue to use its coordination role to deliver the regional strategy, so that LRA could be permanently eradicated. The United Kingdom had provided the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) with funding to protect women and children in LRA-affected areas. The affected countries must implement a standard operating procedure to deal with the group and enhance cross-border cooperation. It was also crucial to investigate LRA's sources of funding, including elephant poaching and smuggling. Noting that criminality in the Gulf of Guinea threatened peace and development in the region, he said UNOCA must add real value to regional and subregional efforts.
JEFFREY DELAURENTIS ( United States) said LRA's "day of reckoning" had not yet arrived, but with sustained engagement, the international community had the reach to eliminate the group permanently. However, LRA had proven its willingness to wait the international community out and regroup, he cautioned, emphasizing that it must not be allowed to believe that it would win a reprieve, especially since it operated in countries where institutions were already fragile and the scale of human suffering was immense. Success in fighting LRA would have ramifications beyond the group, he predicted. Commending the African Union's regional task forces for ramping up operations and increasing their cooperation, he said that had placed unprecedented pressure on LRA, fragmenting its forces. UNOCA had the vital role of coordinating United Nations activities in the region, and must be supported with the necessary staff and resources.
The United Nations missions in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo must work more closely with the African Union task forces, he stressed, adding that his country was proud of the contribution of its special forces and civilian personnel. Urging the international community to begin planning now for the day after Joseph Kony and LRA became relics of the past, he said the United States was concerned about the withdrawal of international aid organizations from LRA-affected areas. The group did not operate in a vacuum, he warned, pointing out that the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic was a matter of grave concern. At the present pivotal moment for Central Africa, the international community must act with forethought to prevent a number of crises brewing in the region, from terrorism to piracy, he said. There was a real opportunity to save countless lives and precious resources, while ushering the subregion towards the stability and prosperity it deserved.
AGSHIN MEHDIYEV ( Azerbaijan) said the complex political, security and humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic had affected the entire subregion. The deteriorating situation in that country was due in part to wide-spread criminality, the spread of weapons and the rising number of internally displaced persons. Welcoming the decision by the African Union Peace and Security Council to authorize the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic, he said piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea was another serious threat, and echoed the call for the implementation of decisions taken at the Yaoundé Summit to enhance maritime security. Poaching was among the major sources of financing for armed groups, including LRA, he said, calling for the implementation of all LRA-related initiatives of the United Nations and the African Union.
JOON OH ( Republic of Korea), noting that the territory controlled by LRA was waning, said his Government was encouraged by reports of defections from among its ranks. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes must be implemented in LRA-affected areas, with adequate financial support. Eradicating LRA's presence in Central Africa required cooperation by the affected countries, he said, adding that he expected the Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and South Sudan to support collective efforts to stem the group's cross-border activities. Illegal poaching fed on rising youth unemployment, and with the Central African Republic becoming a safe haven for the remaining LRA operatives, the transitional authorities were apparently unable to stop them. Humanitarian assistance was needed to help those in need, he said, welcoming the Yaoundé Summit's regional strategy and expressing hope that regional leaders would translate their resolve into concrete follow-up measures.
PHILIPPA KING ( Australia) said the crisis in the Central African Republic was at risk of spiralling out of control, with devastating consequences for the country and the region. Australia supported the implementation of resolution 2121 (2013), which strengthened the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in that country. The international community must maintain momentum in the fight against LRA, which thrived in a vacuum, he emphasized, noting that the breakdown in security had given the group "room to breathe". By retreating into rural areas beyond the reach of regional task forces, it had managed to regroup, and there were reports from South Sudan of suspected LRA attacks and a resumption of activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As LRA's tactics continued to evolve, cross-border cooperation and information-sharing were vital, he stressed, adding that regional and international efforts were needed to deal with such illicit activities as elephant poaching.
GÉRARD ARAUD ( France) said the people of the Central African Republic had been terrorized, threatened and steeped in violence. "The Christians are afraid of Muslims, the Muslims are afraid of Christians and the militia are engaging in blind violence." More than a million people faced food insecurity, and State authority no longer existed, he said, noting that militia roamed through the country, making their own laws. While the Central African Republic was neither well known, nor "on the first page of the newspaper", a massive tragedy was taking place there, and the risk of the entire region being transformed into a hive of instability was all too real. As for LRA, he noted that the African Union was now on the offensive against the group, and commended Uganda and other countries for their contributions. The Lord's Resistance Army must not benefit from the security vacuum in the Central African Republic, and the west of the country should not be allowed to become a sanctuary for the group.
KODJO MENAN ( Togo) said the defeat of 23 March Movement in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo was due in part to the new United Nations strategy for re-establishing peace, security and cooperation in that country and in the wider Great Lakes region. Togo hoped the negotiations in Kampala would lead to an agreement that would end the conflict once and for all. However, the Central African Republic continued to face security challenges since the assumption of power by Séléka elements, he noted, warning that unless the international community intervened in a robust manner, the country could fall into "total anarchy". Describing LRA as a disruptive force, he said its leaders must be captured and prosecuted, which required enhanced cooperation on the issuance of arrest warrants. On piracy, he urged support for UNOCA, and expressed serious concern over the role of poaching and the killing of elephants as the primary source of financing for criminal and rebel groups.
EUGÉNE-RICHARD GASANA ( Rwanda) said the Central African region was a yardstick for the continent as it faced ineffective State authority over its national territory and porous borders, especially those with the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The need to eradicate armed groups, including LRA, as well as gangs of thugs like Séléka and "genocidal" movements, such as the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), could not be overemphasized. It was unfortunate that the subregion had been dominated by the deteriorating situation in the Central African Republic, he said, commending the "awakened spirit of ownership and cooperation" among regional leaders, while stressing that the region must be stabilized. He strongly condemned LRA's violations against children, as well as its use of rape, sexual slavery and forced recruitment of child soldiers. He also expressed grave concern over the humanitarian situation of more than 350,000 displaced persons in LRA-affected countries, urging support for them. On poaching, he noted that the region had lost 70 per cent of its elephants over the last decade.
ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL ( Morocco) applauded UNOCA's efforts to bolster security in the region, and the willingness of its States collectively to face its security and economic challenges. Coordinated and urgent responses were required as the situation in the Central African Republic continued to unravel, he said, adding that ECCAS had made many efforts to improve the situation. Noting the spread of piracy to Africa's whole Atlantic coast, he said trafficking and the illicit trade in ivory were also very high in the subregion, and the revenues were used to fund transnational crime. Security deficits in the Sahel and Central African regions had also affected the Maghreb, he said, pointing out that his country was linked to the countries of Central Africa through traditional ties of friendship. Morocco was sharing its experiences and lessons learned in order to strengthen subregional cooperation.
PETR V. ILIICHEV ( Russian Federation) said the armed conflict and subsequent crisis in the Central African Republic showed the clear impact of the Libyan crisis. Undoubtedly, normalizing the political and security situation in the Central African Republic was essential to peace and security in the region as a whole. There had been a general reduction in the activities of the LRA since the beginning of 2013, and its fighters were keeping a low profile. Nevertheless, bandits had reappeared in the contiguous region of South Sudan and coordinated efforts by regional players were crucial to tackling that threat. Welcoming the deployment of 3,000 African Union forces out of a planned total of 5,000, he nonetheless, cautioned that military action was not the only solution, emphasizing that pressing social and economic issues must be addressed and State power bolstered.
MASOOD KHAN ( Pakistan) said the Central African region was at a crossroads, having coped for several years with a fragile security situation, the proliferation of weapons, cross-border crime and piracy. The principal threat emanated from the country's deteriorating security and humanitarian situation, and UNOCA had a role in coordinating regional and international efforts to address it. The mission's vital mediation role must be strengthened, he said. The Lord's Resistance Army had been degraded, thanks to the African Union Regional Task Force, and that momentum must be sustained through political support. With the Task Force lacking the critical resources and enablers needed to exert sustained pressure on LRA, greater efforts were needed to mobilize resources at the regional and subregional levels. The international community must step up its efforts in other LRA-affected States, including the enhancement of their judicial systems.
MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) human rights violations were a daily reality in the Central African Republic, with some 350,000 people seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Transnational crime by armed groups was financed by illegal ivory trafficking, she said, urging the imposition of an arms embargo in addressing the existence of well-known corridors for illicit trade. Recalling that the head of the Transitional Government of the Central African Republic had promised extraordinary measures to address the critical situation engendered by Séléka elements, he emphasized that the Council must understand what those measures would entail, given that some were describing the situation as "pre-genocide". Despite the decrease in LRA attacks, due to African Union efforts, Joseph Kony continued to evade justice, she pointed out. "Impunity cannot be the response," she stressed.
SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) called for intensified efforts to implement the United Nations regional strategy to combat LRA. Commending the African Union's regional cooperation initiative, she said resources, as well as the necessary equipment, should be mobilized for the effective functioning of its task forces. Luxembourg would be providing functional support to the headquarters of the Regional Task Force in South Sudan, she said. Member States in the region also had a vital role to play, especially in implementing the arrest warrants handed down by the International Criminal Court. LRA leaders must be prosecuted for war crimes, of which women and children were the chief victims. United Nations peacekeeping operations in the region must have sufficient means to protect children, she emphasized, calling upon the African Union to integrate the protection of children into the activities of its task forces. Luxembourg joined France in expressing concern over rising tension and sectarian violence among the communities of the Central African Republic, which could foreshadow genocide.
GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) said that, without a doubt, the consequences of the ethnic and religious strife in the Central African Republic was being felt at the subregional level. Guatemala commended UNOCA's efforts to support initiatives to grapple with that and other challenges, such as piracy and maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea. UNOCA must double its efforts to support the different Central African States in addressing the illegal exploitation of natural resources, specifically the hunting of elephants, she said, noting that ivory poaching enabled criminal networks and armed groups to finance their activities. Regarding the ongoing threat posed by LRA, he condemned its criminal activities while commending the regional task forces of the African Union for reducing the number of LRA attacks. Despite reports of a weakening LRA, African Union forces must be maintained until the armed group was eliminated and its leaders brought to justice, he stressed.
LIU JIEYI ( China), Council President, spoke in his national capacity, saying that, despite rapid economic growth, as well as progress on regional integration and the fight against LRA, peace and stability faced many challenges in Central Africa. China was concerned about volatility in the Central African Republic, he said, expressing hope that the parties concerned would end the violence and resolve their differences through dialogue. He expressed hope that the international community would leverage fully the leadership shown by the United Nations and regional organizations in fighting piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. It should also pay attention to the effect of other situations on the Central African region. Strongly condemning LRA, he called on the group to cease its illegal activities and take part in disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration activities.
FRANCISCO MADEIRA, Special Envoy of the African Union for LRA Issues, highlighted the progress made in coordination with troop-contributing countries, with support from the United States special forces, the European Union and United Nations offices and missions on the ground, especially UNOCA. In January, he recalled, the Joint Coordination Mechanism had adopted key mission documents for the Regional Task Force: the Strategic Directives, Concept of Operations, Standard Operating Procedures for the Handling of Persons suspected of involvement in LRA Activities, and Rules of Engagement. On 13 February, the Congolese Armed Forces had handed over 500 troops to the Task Force, he said.
"These two events marked the end of the first phase of the operationalization of the Regional Task Force," he continued, referring to the military component of the African Union's regional cooperation aimed at eliminating LRA. However, it had been difficult to begin phase two -- military operations -- due to the logistical challenges faced by contingents from the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. That had left the Ugandan contingent, supported by the United States special forces, to continue counter-LRA operations until July. Nonetheless, they had achieved major success, killing nine LRA fighters, receiving 14 defectors, and recovering 17 modern firearms, four traditional weapons and six pieces of ivory.
However, he said, a major setback had occurred following the 24 March coup d'état in Bangui, Central African Republic, which LRA had exploited to reorganize, step up cross-border movements, attack villages and displace civilians in Mbomou and Haut Mbomou prefectures. The picture had been further complicated by the 24 May attack on Obo town, by 87 "arrow boys" from Tumbura, South Sudan. The Task Force had apprehended 42 of them and handed them over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for repatriation. The Obo situation had renewed tensions between Séléka and the Task Force, he said, adding that he and Special Representative Abou Moussa had made joint efforts to defuse the tensions.
He went on to say that between July and August, the Task Force had undergone retraining and counter-LRA rehearsals, facilitated by the United States special forces. That had paved the way for the Task Force to resume military operations in the Central African Republic on 9 August, and for the Congolese and South Sudanese to become operational in September. The current military pressure had kept the LRA "on the run", forcing it to buy time by duping national authorities into "negotiations" that purportedly would allow Joseph Kony to "surrender" and resettle in the Central African Republic. According to the Task Force, the LRA had only used that time to relocate his fighters to north-eastern Central African Republic. As such, the Task Force would not relent until he and his top commanders surrendered or were removed from the battlefield, he stressed.