Sending in the Troops
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on a brief visit to the capital, Bangui, en route to Rwanda to commemorate the anniversary of the 1994 genocide, warned that the conflict in the CAR has turned into “ethno-religious cleansing,” with lynchings, decapitations and sexual violence going unpunished. He told parliamentarians they had a duty to prevent a recurrence in Africa of atrocities such as were seen in Rwanda in 1994.
Some 8,000 foreign troops – 2,000 from former colonial power France and most of the rest from the African force known as MISCA – have been trying to disarm rival militias after a year of sectarian violence. The ethno-religious conflict, unprecedented even in this nation that has endured decades of coups, army mutinies and general strikes, has led to international warnings of a potential genocide.
With concerns mounting, the UN Security Council voted on April 10th to send some 12,000 UN peacekeepers, including up to 10,000 military personnel and 1,800 police. This force is intended to take over from the French and AU missions, but not until September 15th. UN logistical assistance may be provided sooner. The European Union (EU) has meanwhile pledged to send 800 troops and they took control of security at the main airport at the end of April
Chad announced on April 3rd it was withdrawing from MISCA after being accused of siding with the mainly Muslim Séléka movement that held power for most of 2013. Chad was one of the largest contributors to the MISCA force, with about 850 troops on the ground. Chadian troops are also seen as experienced and battle hardy and have played a major role in ousting Islamist rebels in northern Mali.
The Chadian government said it was pulling out from the peacekeeping force because of “a wanton and malicious campaign” against its troops, one it said aimed to make them “bear the responsibility” for all the country’s troubles.
Muslims Flee Lynch Mobs
MISCA has meanwhile been escorting Muslims out of the capital, where mosques have been destroyed. Tens of thousands have already fled northwards, almost emptying the south of the country of Muslims. They have travelled to predominantly Muslim areas in the north, while thousands of others have fled across borders into Chad and Cameroon. According to the UN, the proportion of Muslims in the overall population has shrunk from around 15% to 2% since the bloodletting began.
The town of Bambari has become a sanctuary for Muslims fleeing lynch mobs in the south and in effect divides the largely Christian south from a northern region now controlled by the mostly Muslim Séléka rebels.
Amnesty International has warned of a “Muslim exodus of historic proportions.”
CAR in Brief
- Around a quarter of the 4.6 million population have fled their homes in the last year.
- The sectarian violence pits the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia against the mainly Muslim Séléka rebels who held power for most of 2013
- Séléka leader Michel Djotodia stepped down in January under international pressure and was replaced as interim president by Catherine Samba Panza, formerly mayor of Bangui
- The proportion of Muslims in the overall population has shrunk from around 15% to 2%
- The newly arrived EU force is under the command of a French officer, Maj-Gen Philippe Ponties, and is made up of French and Estonian troops.