25 October 2016

Central African Republic: Tensions Rise Over Perception of UN Favouring Militia Groups

Photo: UN Photo /Dany Balepe
Peace day in Bangui

Frustration and lack of communication are fomenting violence in Bangui, Central African Republic, and additionally throughout the country, according to a reconciliation expert. Peaceful protests on the streets of the capital turned violent on Monday when clashes broke out, killing four people and wounding 14 in the skirmishes between protesters and the UN peacekeeping force (MINUSCA) on the streets of Bangui, said the UN.

The death toll was disputed by Gervais Lakosso, president, Work and Civil Society Group, a non-governmental organisation that held the demonstration aimed at getting MINUSCA out of the country. He said that six people were killed.

MINUSCA maintains that Lakosso and his group do not represent the will of Central Africans.

"This is not a general position. It's not backed by the entire Central African [population]," said Vladimir Monteiro, MINUSCA spokesman, adding that they had spoken to Lakosso twice recently.

The civil society leader claims that MINUSCA is favouring ex-Seleka rebels. In 2013, Seleka overthrew the government, kicking off a countrywide crisis that people are still trying to recover from.

Lakosso and his group "don't provide any other alternative to stabilization but war. The Central African Armed Forces (FACA) should be armed and go and fight the ex-Seleka, while the president [Faustin-Archange Touadéra] has launched dialogue towards Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR)," added Monteiro.

"The protest that we organised was totally peaceful. And therefore, we represent the people. We don't want war," said Lakosso, saying that he and the others want security within the CAR. "There are armed groups and mercenaries throughout the country, and they kill the unarmed civilian population. And MINUSCA demands that the Central African government open dialogue with criminal mercenaries."

Some 30 people were killed and many more wounded earlier this month when ex-Seleka attacked refugees in Kaga Bandoro, another incident which added to the climate of insecurity in the country.

"MINUSCA cooperates with armed groups because it's in front of them that they commit the crimes. And they never react to this," said Lakosso, who believes the UN peacekeeping force should be actively tackling militia groups and mercenaries.

Remants of the Seleka group remain in Kaga Bandoro and they are a law unto themselves, but MINUSCA is there too, according to Caesar Pobliks, East and Central Africa Coordinator for Conciliation Resources, a group that works on reconciliation. He just returned from Bangui after working with a number of civic society groups and armed militia.

"So the frustration is just building around the Kaga Bandoro incident. Of course, MINUSCA is providing the minimum security required. But the frustration of Lakosso and others is that training the national army, the FACA, is going slowly," said Pobliks. "The population see MINUSCA's association with the ex-Seleka, how they accommodate them instead of moving on with DDR," he added.

And while civil society groups are pushing for MINUSCA to pull out of the CAR, the reconciliation expert says that the government needs to do more, quickly, to engage the population, so that they can air their views with neighbourhood leaders, who speak to local mayors, on up to the national level.

The people need to see that there are bridges of communication, particularly in central government. He pointed to Pope Francis's visit to Bangui in November 2015, when the pontiff insisted on visiting PK5, considered a notorious gun-riddled Muslim neighbourhood in the capital.

"Out of so many people who are in Bangui, he is the first person who visited PK5. He brought some atmosphere of calm when he visited. What stops the minister from visiting these hot spots and challenging the violence?" said Pobliks.

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