Africa: Rwanda Acted Exemplary, Says Car Defence Minister

Rwandan special forces' operation in CAR.

By quickly agreeing to help and sending troops to help the Central African Republic's national army battle rebels, and save lives, Rwanda set a good example that other regional countries should follow.

Marie-Noëlle Koyara, the CAR's Minister of National Defence and Army Reconstruction, noted this Sunday, December 3, during an interview with journalists at her offices in the capital, Bangui.

Koyara again used the occasion to thank the people, government of Rwanda and President Paul Kagame "for understanding that it was necessary" to save the people of her country from the threat posed by a myriad of rebels.

"As you well know, our army is undergoing reconstruction. And, very rapidly, a friendly country with which we have a bilateral agreement provided us with forces to help its CAR brothers protect the population," Koyara said.

"There is nothing more important than saying, thank you to the people of Rwanda for this laudable act which is humanitarian and that serves as a good example to other African countries."

Koyara told reporters that her government appealed to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) for help and it was Rwanda that made the first step.

The 12-member bloc of which Rwanda is a member aims to achieve collective autonomy, raise the standard of living of its populations and maintain economic stability through harmonious cooperation.

Is the arms embargo on CAR an issue?

Asked if the 13,000-plus-strong United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is not enough to guarantee her country's security, Koyara explained that there are factors, including the fact that her country is under an arms embargo, that necessitates it to get an extra hand.

Shedding light on CAR's challenge, Koyara said her country has a land size of more than 600,000 square kilometres with an army that is under reconstruction and is still struggling under the arms embargo.

"An army that does not have all necessary equipment would notably defend its population. Our territory is vast," Koyara said.

The Security Council, the United Nations' most powerful body, with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, has imposed an arms embargo on the country since 2013.

A July 2020 resolution extended the CAR sanctions regime until July 31, 2021, including an arms embargo with some exemptions. The sanctions include an arms and ammunition embargo, but exempt supplies to the CAR security forces of weapons with a calibre of 14.5 millimetres or less, and ground military vehicles and rocket‑propelled grenades.

The UN Mission's mandate, Koyara said, is not about securing the country's borders "and our long border is porous."

And, she added, all her country's neighbours are either in conflict themselves or coming out of conflict.

"It was normal and necessary to benefit, in a bilateral manner, from such support which we requested from ECCAS and, fortunately, Rwanda was the first country to rapidly respond," Koyara said.

Despite MINUSCA's presence, she said, her country needed the support from "friends like Rwanda" to repel threats by rebels as happened in Damara, a town located about an hour from Bangui, in the prefecture of Ombella-M'Poko.

The region was attacked by rebels on Saturday but the national army, supported by Rwandan Special Forces based there, repulsed the attackers.

"The decision of our President to bring our Rwandan brothers on our side merits being saluted. And it shows what we have always said; that Africa needs to be united, strong and in solidarity."

Kigali deployed "force protection troops" - trained to conduct special operations - to the country on December 20, 2020, under a bilateral agreement on defence.

Besides, Rwanda is one of the top troop contributors to MINUSCA which started in April 2014 to protect civilians in the country under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The latter allows the Security Council to determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and to take military and nonmilitary action to restore international peace and security.

The government and UN forces have been struggling to maintain peace in the landlocked country.

In February 2019, Bangui signed an agreement with several armed groups that control large swathes of the country, committing to integrating fighters from some groups into new army units and their leaders into government.

Despite unsuccessful threats from a coalition of rebels fermenting trouble, general elections were held on December 27 to elect a new president and members of the National Assembly.

Initial election results are expected on January 4.

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

Follow https://twitter.com/KarhangaJames

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