5 April 2014

Central African Republic: Samba-Panza Promises CAR Reconciliation As Europe Prepares to Send Troops

Photo: HRW
Halima, (center), a 25-year-old Muslim woman, is living under the protection of a Catholic church following the massacre of over 80 Muslims by anti-Balaka forces in Bossemptélé, CAR.

Europe's pledge to send a force to the violence-torn Central African Republic (CAR) overshadowed the fourth European Union-Africa summit held in Brussels this week. CAR President Catherine Samba-Panza promised to work for reconciliation between Christians and Muslims after an explosion of sectarian violence.

The summit's theme was "Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace" and climate change and trade were top of the agenda.

But, with violence escalating in the CAR and European countries behind schedule in putting together a force to back up French and African Union forces there, a last-minute meeting was called to discuss the chaotic situation there.

The meeting agreed to bring forward the creation of a mixed European force, Eufor, to be headed by French Major General Philippe Pontiès, which is supposed be deployed within a matter of days.

As the summit wound down, CAR President Catherine Samba-Panza sat down with the press and answered questions about herself and this new military intervention in the country.

"While this operation of enforcing security is going on, the process of reconciliation must also be in place," she said when asked whether a military response is the only solution to the violence. "So the presence of Eufor does not prevent reconciliation and dialogue. Quite the contrary in fact, this process can begin even when conditions are quite low."

Samba-Panza agreed that the reconciliation plan will prove difficult, given that the majority of Muslims have fled the country. But she said, "Dialogue is not only between the Christians and Muslims. It must first begin within the communities themselves ... regardless of their religions or ethnicities."

Samba-Panza said that being a female president works to her advantage.

"I think being a woman and head of the Central African Republic at this moment is in fact a great advantage," she told reporters. "As a woman, I inspire respect from the population. And I can speak a language of peace. I also have the advantage of being a woman without any political party affiliation or any political ambition.

"My only ambition is to see the success of a transition that will allow the country to come out of this violence and head towards the path of development. I think this position, despite the difficulties, despite the challenges, helps me to remain optimistic towards a solution for the Central African Republic".

This year's summit saw some 80 heads of European and African states come together to discuss how to further strengthen the economic relationship between the two continents.

That is the largest gathering of heads of states from both continents, according to European Commission development spokesperson Alexandre Polack, who insisted that its purpose was to facilitate dialogue between the continents as equals and that any perception that Europe is trying to exercise colonial-style influence over Africa is "old-fashioned".

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