30 December 2013

Central African Republic: Gradually Slipping Into Anarchy

The sectarian violence in the Central African Republic, CAR, is gaining in intensity in spite of the deployment of 1,600 French 'Opération Sangaris' troops in the capital, Bangui, beginning on December 5, 2013. The French were later followed on December 19, 2013 by the African Union, AU-led International Mission for Support to the Central African Republic, MISCA peacekeeping force.

Commanded by Cameroonian-born Brigadier Gen. Martin Tumenta Chomu, the 3,600-strong MISCA force whose strength is expected to reach 6,000 men, replaced the sub-regional FOMAC mission that had been battling to restore peace to the war-ravaged country. Both deployments were preceded by two days of unprecedented sectarian bloodletting in Bangui at the beginning of the month between Moslem and Christian gunmen and civilians.

Military Deployment, Rising Violence

Both 'Opération Sangaris' and MISCA have so far deployed hundreds of troops in the capital, but they are yet to restore a semblance of normalcy. Rather, Christian-on-Moslem and Moslem-on-Christian violence has been on the increase in recent days. Overwhelmed by the situation, French President, François Hollande, over the weekend called for the involvement of the UN to stem the growing spectre of violence.

Over 40 people were killed on Christmas Day 2013. A mass grave containing at least 30 Moslem corpses was discovered near the Roux Barracks on Panthers' Hill, close to the Presidential Palace on December 26, 2013. On the same day, two Congo (Brazzaville) police peacekeepers were killed in a clash with the Presidential Guard manned by former Séléka fighters. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, whose residence was earlier ransacked by militia men, now lives and operates from Bangui M'Poko International Airport under the protection of French troops.

Disarmament, Lion-hearted Fighters

Though the government recently announced the disarmament of 1,000 militia men by foreign troops, the programme seems to be stalling. Rising sectarian tensions and violence suggest that an increasing number of people might prefer to retain their weapons in the face of an uncertain security future. Unlike in Mali where Islamic militants in the north largely disappeared into the thin air on sighting French troops during last January's intervention, the situation in CAR is rather different.

Weeks after the foreign intervention, both the defunct Séléka (the largely Moslem combatants who propelled President Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia to power on March 24, 2013) and anti-Balaka (Christian militiamen believed to be enjoying the support of ex-President François Bozizé), are still very present in Bangui. It has been suggested that the havoc Séléka has wreaked on the country in the last nine months is also attributed to the fact the disparate alliance of former rebels is largely made up of mercenaries from some neighbouring countries. In all, two French, six Chadian and five Congo (Brazzaville) peacekeepers have so far died in clashes with lion-hearted militia men and the Presidential Guard.

Awash With Weapons

Years of instability and the 2012 brief insurgency that finally led to the overthrow of President François Bozizé by President Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia's Séléka rebel forces last March suggest that the country is now awash with firearms. With the overthrow of President Bozizé, men of the defunct Central African Republic Armed Forces, FACA, literally vanished, but with their weapons largely intact. It is some of these weapons and the presence of former soldiers that are helping in fuelling the current insecurity in CAR.

Appeals By Religious Leaders

The Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga and the country's leading Moslem cleric, Oumar-Kobine Layama, as well as other religious leaders, have been making frantic appeals to the people to refrain from violence. These efforts have apparently not yet borne the expected results as sectarian violence is still on the increase. More of such efforts are needed to restore peace to the war-torn country. From the look of things, normalcy cannot be returned to CAR by force of arms alone - a carrot and stick approach is urgently needed. Fortunately, President Djotodia has repeatedly indicated his intention to talk to the anti-Balaka militia.

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