Current President of Central African Republic Michel Djotodia said yesterday that contacts had been established with so-called anti-balaka groups opposed to his rule. According to Djotodia, the anti-balaka groups had specifically raised concerns about their safety should they agree to stop fighting, and also sought an official amnesty and their inclusion in the government. He also added that he saw “no harm” in such outreach and would be looking to potentially reach out to other groups. It was unclear who this might refer to in a country that has seen the emergence of numerous armed groupings since Djotodia ousted President Francois Bozize in March.
The concerns about safety reportedly raised by the anti-balaka contacts is entirely reasonable given that Djotodia has not appeared to have significant control over the fighters that thrust him into power. Former members of the Seleka rebel movement, which Djotodia officially disbanded following declaring himself the country’s new president, remain active, especially in the suburbs of the capital Bangui. I have disputed whether Djotodia has publicly admitted his lack of control over these fighters and anti-balaka militiamen may be understandably wary of any guarantees given to them as part of any agreement with Djotodia’s government. A reported incident yesterday, where militiamen, possibly Djotodia’s personal bodyguard, surrounded French President Francois Hollande’s plane at the airport in Bangui speaks to the general uncertainty and insecurity in the country at present.
France launched an intervention into the country, Operation Sangaris, following the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2127 on December 5th. This gave a UN mandate to the French operation, as well as the existing African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA). The African Union has since approved the expansion of MISCA to a total of six thousand personnel, and the United States has been involved in helping to rapidly deploy African peacekeeping forces into the country.
Also, in other news today, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir appeared on national television in military uniform to say that his government had defeated a coup attempt. South Sudan, the newest independent country in the world following its break from Sudan in 2011, has been wracked by border disputes with Sudan and infighting between the members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the insurgent group that now forms the largest political party in the country’s government. Kiir said that coup had been led by individuals loyal to Riek Machar, a former deputy to Kiir and leadership figure in the SPLM. Machar now leads a splinter faction of the SPLM, which focuses on the representation of the Nuer ethnic group. The Nuer are the second largest ethnic group in South Sudan, behind the Dinka. Kiir is a member of the Dinka group and reports suggest there have been accusations of the domination of the country’s government by that group.