1 February 2014

Central African Republic: EU Force Gets Green Light for Central African Republic

Photo: ICRC / Nadia Dibsy
An aid worker in discussion with a patient in the trauma unit of Bangui's community hospital.

UN Security Council authorises extra troops to address concerns that peacekeeping numbers are too low.

The United Nations Security Council this week approved the deployment of a European Union force to the Central African Republic (CAR) with a mandate to take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.

The Security Council resolution of January 28 also requires UN member states to freeze the financial and other economic assets of any individual engaging in, or providing support, for acts that undermine peace, stability and security in the CAR.

The EU force will consist of some 500 soldiers and will initially have a six-month mandate from when it is deployed. It is not yet clear which states will contribute troops.

Foreign peacekeepers are seen as an essential stabilising force in a country that lacks functioning state institutions or a national army. But analysts are warning that current levels of deployment - even with the addition of the EU force - are not nearly enough, and that a much larger peacekeeping force will be needed to help end the hostilities.

The EU force is expected to relieve French troops currently stationed at the airport in the capital Bangui.

France sent 1,600 troops to CAR in December under its own Operation Sangaris. They are cooperating with an African Union contingent operating under the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA). On January 18, the African Union voted to increase the size of the MISCA force from 4,400 to 6,000 soldiers.

As well as dispatching its own force, the EU has said it will contribute 25 million euro (34 million US dollars) to funding MISCA.

Thierry Vircoulon, an expert on central Africa with the International Crisis Group (ICG) told IWPR that the limited number of troops currently envisaged would leave peacekeepers struggling to impose order, particularly outside Bangui.

"Although the multiplication of military missions is a sign of how dramatic the situation is, there are still not enough troops to secure the provincial cities," he said.

The CAR was plunged into chaos in March 2013 following a coup by the Seleka rebel coalition, drawn mainly from Muslims from the north of the country. The Seleka forces deposed President Francois Bozizé and installed Michel Djotodia in his place.

A subsequent surge of killings, looting and the destruction of whole villages by Seleka fighters led to revenge attacks by the predominantly Christian "anti-balaka" (anti-machete) militia.

While religion is not a causal factor in this conflict, it has been manipulated so that the warring parties have divided along Muslim and Christian lines.

The UN says that in December, more than 1,000 people were killed in just a few days.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has warned militia groups in the CAR that they must stop the atrocities or risk prosecution.

The United States ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, underlined the gravity of the crisis following a visit to the country earlier this month.

"We met with one woman whose husband had been stabbed to death in front of her, his body then doused with gasoline and set on fire just in front of her very eyes," she said.

Power spoke of a humanitarian crisis in which camps for people displaced by the violence are struggling to provide them with basic services.

"As a result, there was open sewage and a degree of deprivation and despair that was really very, very striking and quite heartbreaking," she said. "And this is only what we are able to see. There's so much of the country that we have not had access to."

According to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 900,000 people have been displaced by the violence. Nearly half a million of them have fled to the country's capital, Bangui, and around 100,000 have taken shelter at the airport.

A further 200,000 are reported to have fled to neighbouring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The UN World Food Programme says an estimated 2.6 million of CAR's total population of just over 4.5 million are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.

Djotodia resigned on January 10 under pressure from regional leaders and the international community.

Last week, a National Transitional Council selected Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president, with Andre Nzapayeke as her prime minister. Samba-Panza, formerly mayor of Bangui, was sworn into office on January 23.

The UN Security Council has called for elections to be held by February 2015.

Dan Donovan, a regional analyst for the Foreign Policy Association, sees the appointment of an interim president as a positive step towards ending the bloodshed. Samba-Panza has "some experience" of resolving conflicts and "no strong ties" to either side, he said.

Donovan said both Seleka and anti-balaka groups would need to be disarmed before the possibility of a ceasefire or a wider peace agreement could be raised.

"As long as the main elements can be neutralised and the people can be allowed to return to their homes and feel safe, then a process for reconciliation and rebuilding could potentially be more effective," he said.

CAR has had multiple peacekeeping missions on its territory in recent decades. None has succeeded in bringing lasting stability.

Observers warn that any foreign troops must avoid taking sides. In the past, peacekeepers from neighbouring Chad - part of the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX), a force operational since 2008 - have collaborated with the Seleka rebels, and reportedly committed human rights violations in the process.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson acknowledged the problems surrounding the MICOPAX force at a Security Council meeting last November.

"Despite its best efforts, the capacity of [MICOPAX] to protect civilians is seriously limited," he said. "While the recent deployment of MICOPAX has had a deterrent effect in some locations, some contingents are perceived as siding with particular communities."

The UN has estimated that 10,000 peacekeepers would be needed in the CAR. Commentators say it will be up to African states to lead the way in providing additional troops.

"The appetite for Western intervention in CAR is minimal, which is why an AU force as the primary on a peacekeeping mission makes the most sense to calm and disarm both sides," Donovan said. "Both French and EU soldiers should act as a support system to AU troops."

EU representatives have expressed concern at the limited numbers of troops the AU has sent so far.

Peteris Ustubs, director for West and Central Africa and the Sahel at the EU's European External Action Service has said that despite prompt political support to end the conflict, "the arrival of troops from the region [is] lagging behind".

"Since March it was difficult to reach 3,500 [troops], now it is difficult to reach 5,200. Even 6,000 will not help to solve the problem," Ustubs told a Royal African Society event in London on January 29.

The AU's problem is that its peacekeeping missions are already spread very thin. There are contingents in Mali, Somalia, DRC, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Darfur and South Sudan.

At a press conference in January, Ambassador Power noted this "overstretch" factor, the result of a recent upsurge in conflicts.

"African countries are being asked to do an awful lot right now to help enforce these mandates and help protect civilians on the continent," she said.

CAR's new interim leaders will be almost entirely reliant on foreign forces to quell the unrest for some time to come.

"The overwhelming priority remains establishing security and stability, yet she [Samba-Panza] lacks appropriate tools in the form of trained and equipped national security forces," David Smith, director of the South African-based think tank Okapi Consulting told IWPR. "She will be totally reliant upon MISCA, Sangaris and the new EU force."

In the longer term, rebuilding institutions will also pose huge challenges.

"There is a complete vacuum of power in CAR and the state ceased to exist. The civil servants are paid by foreign actors and state services have completely collapsed," Vircoulon said. "Significant and prolonged political, financial and security support from the international community will be needed."

At the start of the AU summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on January 30, the outgoing chair of the bloc, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, called for "urgent action" to avoid further escalations of violence in the region.

He warned that the situations in CAR and in neighbouring South Sudan, currently engulfed in political and ethnic strife, could have dire consequences for Africa as a whole.

"We need to find urgent solutions to rescue these two sisterly countries from falling into the abyss. Failure to do so will have serious implications for peace and security in the region and indeed the whole continent," he said.

With South Sudan high on the international agenda, though, there are fears that the CAR crisis will not get the attention it deserves.

"With an unstable DRC and collapse of South Sudan next door, CAR may prove one country too many for the international community," Smith said.

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