Tag Archives: anti-balaka

France Opposes Central African Republic Partition

French President Francois Hollande said today that the primary mission for his country’s forces in Central African Republic is to prevent a de facto partition there. President Hollande made the remarks to French troops in CAR’s capital Bangui.  He is on his second visit to the embattled country in three months.  France has some two thousand personnel in the country as part of Operation Sangaris, an intervention that began last December.

French troops patrol in Central African Republic with African forces from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), 24 February 2014

French troops patrol in Central African Republic with African forces from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), 24 February 2014

The visit comes just days after France’s parliament voted to extend the duration of the operation.  Parliamentarians voted for the extension despite some criticizing President Hollande for underestimating the situation there. Two French soldiers have been killed as international peacekeepers try to disarm militias and stem the violence.

CAR has been locked in crisis since nominally Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March. Their leader, Michel Djotodia formally disbanded the group after being named Interim President, but former rebels continued to operate with virtual impunity.

Violence has exploded, however, following Djotodia’s resignation and subsequent departure into exile in January. International forces, operating in CAR under a UN mandate, have been unable to prevent a string of violent reprisals against Muslim communities, especially in Bangui. Muslims have been fleeing the capital in recent weeks in the face of attacks from nominally Christian self-defense groups, collectively referred to as anti-balaka, which sprang up in response to the activities of ex-Seleka rebels.

This has in turn given rise to fears of a de facto partition of the country between the nominally Christian western portion and the nominally Muslim eastern portion.  Aid agencies have also been reportedly faced with the dilemma about whether to assist in the movement of communities away from the violence. While this might save groups from massacres at the hands of various localized armed groups, it could also be in service of what amounts to “ethnic cleansing” and reinforce fears of a split in the country. The duty to protect civilians and fears about essentially assisting in atrocities have proven continually to be difficult to balance in peacekeeping operations, including notably during UN efforts in Bosnia in the 1990s.

CAR’s new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, has basically declared war on militias, but with accusations of complicity on the part of government security forces and the limited resources of international forces currently, there has been little movement to curtail their activities. Currently there are six thousand African peacekeepers in the country, in addition to the French forces there. The European Union has pledged additional forces, and it is hoped that the international presence in CAR will expand soon to a total of some nine-thousand personnel.

A good example of the difficulties that peacekeepers have faced came earlier this week when the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) reported the arrest of Patrick Edouard Ngaissona.  Ngaissona styles himself a “coordinator” of anti-balaka groups. However, MISCA retracted this statement yesterday, saying instead that they had actually captured a more minor anti-balaka member of the same name.  President Hollande is to meet with Interim President Samba-Panza, no doubt to discuss the issue of militias among other problems that the country faces.

Central African Republic’s Violence Proving Difficult to Quell

It was reported today that attempts to disarm nominally Christian militias in Central African Republic, broadly referred to as anti-balaka, had been met with resistance.  Unsurprisingly, the anti-balaka militiamen reportedly did not wish to be disarmed by force by international peacekeepers and also demanded that efforts be made to disarm former members of the nominally Muslim Seleka rebel group.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA's Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March, taking control and touching off a cycle of inter-communal violence in the country.  The anti-balaka militias had come into existence initially to provide a measure of self-defense against ex-Seleka rebels, who operated with virtual impunity under the administration of Interim President Michel Djotodia, who had led the group.  Djotodia resigned and fled into exile last month, and since then the anti-balaka militias have exacted brutal reprisals on those they accuse of being rebels or otherwise associating with them.

International peacekeepers have found themselves strained to adequately protect civilians caught in the current crisis, and there have been accusations of complicity with armed groups, notably with regards to Chad.  Government security forces have also been accused of complicity and the International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary examination into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country.

In response to the continuing violence, France announced yesterday that it will send an additional four hundred personnel to CAR, bringing the total size of its contingent to two thousand individuals.  France’s intervention, codenamed Operation Sangaris, began last December.  The European Union also announced yesterday that it is now planning to send one thousand troops to CAR, doubling its original commitment.

There remain concerns that the additional forces will still not be enough to contain the violence.  The United Nations’ Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said that “the United Nations and its regional partners face an urgent test” in CAR.  Secretary General Ban called on the international community to continue to work to end the crisis.  There remain few accurate estimates of the current death toll, but hundreds of thousands have been displaced internally and are in need of humanitarian assistance.  Some two-hundred and fifty thousand have also fled to neighboring countries.

CAR’s New Interim President Announces Intent to “Hunt” Militias

Central African Republic’s Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who was appointed to her post just last month, has said that nominally Christian militias, referred to collectively as anti-balaka, “have lost their sense of mission.” She suggest that as the country’s first female President the militias saw her as weak, before promising that they would be “hunted.”  The anti-balaka militias have been responsible for brutal acts of violence in the country’s capital, Bangui, in recent weeks against the city’s nominally Muslim population.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, along with a timeline of significant events, from a larger situation map for CAR produced by OCHA, dated 5 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of internally displaced persons (in thousands) by state in CAR, along with a timeline of significant events, from a larger situation map for CAR produced by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, dated 5 February 2014.

The anti-balaka militia came into being as local self-protection organizations to protect Christian communities against violence and criminality perpetrated by former members of the Seleka rebel organization.  Militia groups say they are merely exacting revenge for these crimes.

The Seleka rebels ousted the country’s leadership last March, and their leader, Michel Djotodia, was subsequently appointed as the country’s interim president.  Djotodia officially disbanded the group, but could not demobilize them.  Before resigning last month and fleeing into exile, Djotodia also sought to justify the violence committed by former Seleka rebels by suggesting it was a natural expression of revenge against the former regime.

Former Seleka fighters and anti-balaka militiamen have both been accused of serious crimes.  Last week there were reports of at least three daylight lynchings in Bangui, including at least one where uniformed members of the military were said to have been complicit.  Today, African Union peacekeepers reportedly uncovered a mass grave at a military camp occupied by former Seleka rebels.

Limited access and security concerns have prevented international organizations from independently verifying many crimes and establishing accurate estimates of how many of have been killed since fighting exploded last year.  Hundreds of thousands, however, have been driven from their homes.  Amnesty International has described the current campaign by anti-balaka militias as “ethnic cleansing.”  Some UN officials say they share this fear.  UN Secretary General warned that the country could end up experiencing a de facto partition as a result the inter-communal violence.  CAR authorities deny that this is the case, saying that it is merely a “security problem.”  Peacekeepers have also so far been unable to help quell the violence.

The UN’s World Food Program did begin airlifting food aid into the country today, in an attempt to stave off a humanitarian disaster.  Food insecurity is a major threat, and many of the individuals driven from the capital in the recent violence are said to have been merchants involved in the sale and distribution of foodstuffs.  The UN estimates that over a million people could be in need of humanitarian assistance.

Crises in South Sudan, Central African Republic Fester

Despite various significant events in the past few weeks, crises in both South Sudan and Central African Republic continue to fester.  Both countries have continued to experience significant violence, even just this week, in spite of moves meant to promote peace and stability.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

In South Sudan, rebels accused the government of violating a ceasefire signed in January by attacking their positions near Malakal in Upper Nile state.  This is not the first time the rebels have accused the government of breaching the agreement, which is less than two weeks old.  International monitors are supposed to be monitoring the ceasefire agreement on the ground.  The allegations did come the day after Riek Machar, the defacto leader of the opposition to the government, formally announced the formation of a united resistance movement to bring various rebel factions together.

The ceasefire, brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, was intended to be the beginning to additional negotiations on ending the crisis that has displaced hundreds of thousands and killed an untold number.  The UN has experienced significant difficulties in assessing the conflict and distributing aid in many areas, including Malakal.  The allegations of ceasefire violations along with the intention of the South Sudanese government to pursue treason charges against seven individuals, have raised doubts about the viabaility of further negotiations.  Among those charged with Treason are both Riek Machar and Taban Deng, who signed the IGAD-backed ceasefire on behalf of the rebels.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

In Central African Republic, inter-communal violence also continues to rage, despite the recent appointment of a new president, who has vowed to work for peace and reconciliation, and a significant international peacekeeping presence.  The United States has also threatened the possibility of sanctions against any who would prevent efforts to end the crisis there.  As in South Sudan, the conflict has displaced a significant number of people, but it has been difficult to assess the true extent of the conflict or how many people have died as a result.

This week saw significant acts of violence in the capital Bangui, with soldiers reportedly participating in the lynching of a Muslim man by nominally Christian so-called anti-balaka militiamen.  Today it was reported that another act of mob violence had claimed the life another Muslim man as he and other Muslim residents attempted to flee the capital. Newly appointed interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has repeatedly called for a stop to such acts of sectarian violence, but may have limited tools with which to stem it.  The International Criminal Court announced today that in response to the growing evidence of both crimes against humanity and war crimes that it would be opening a preliminary examination in CAR.

CAR has a significant international peacekeeping presence as well, and UN and the African Union have sought to expand it further.  However, peacekeepers have been criticized by the locals and others of being biased toward ex-Seleka fighters.  Prior to the resignation of the previous interim President and former Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotodia, anti-balaka militia had also expressed their displeasure with the fact that international forces had not actively worked to oust him from power.  Most recently, Human Rights Watch reported that researchers in CAR had seen Chadian peacekeapers escorting ex-Seleka rebel leaders from the capital, and expressed concerns that this might indicate collusion between the two entities.  This had previously been reported with the even more worrisome detail that the fighters evacuated had subsequently gone missing.  Regardless of their true intentions and affiliations, peacekeepers have had a difficult time in CAR quelling the violence.

UN Authorizes Expansion to Peacekeeping Mission in CAR

The United Nations Security Council today unanimously adopted a new resolution regarding the crisis in Central African Republic.  Among the provisions was to provide a UN mandate to the European Union’s planned addition to international peacekeeping efforts in the country.  The new mandate will allow the EU to send five hundred personnel to help provide stability as the country attempts to move past its current crisis, which has killed an untold number and resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

However, there are concerns that the EU’s new contingent will still not be enough to stabilize the situation.  France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said that the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) is now considered too small to deal with a situation he called “very, very dire”.  The African Union recently approved expanding the size of MISCA to some six thousand personnel.  France currently has some sixteen hundred personnel in CAR.  So far, it has been reported that Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Poland have stepped forward to contribute to the UN mission.  All three countries are also NATO members and all have contributed to other international military missions, notably NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Military intervention is also only one component of the strategy.  The UNSC’s new resolution also extended the mandate of the UN’s peacebuilding office in CAR, as well as authorizing the use of travel bans and assets freezes as targeted measures.  No specific entities were named in the resolution, but the United States had previously made a similarly broad threat to target any individuals or groups standing in the way of peace and reconciliation in the country.

Peace and reconciliation are of paramount concern.  The country’s new Interim President, , has called for communities to band together to end the violence.  However, on the day of her inauguration, nominally Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, attacked and looted members of the Muslim population in the capital Bangui, seen as support former members of the Seleka rebel movement.  The rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March, which eventually led to the current crisis.  As peacekeepers attempted to evacuate former Seleka rebels in a bid to restore order in the capital, Muslims also fled, fearing more reprisals.

Also worrisome is that some of the former rebels who agreed to be evacuated have since disappeared, possibly to regroup and launch a new insurgency.  The lack of any clearly defined hierarchy and command structure among former rebels has meant that securing ceasefires and other agreements has been difficult.  It is likely that former rebels will take a number of different paths toward any new relationship with the current transitional government.

UN Says Central African Republic at “Critical Juncture”

Calling today for continued internal commitment to assist Central African Republic, the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “We simply cannot let the social fabric of this country be torn apart.”  Ms. Pillay’s appeal comes after CAR swore in a new interim president last week.  Catherine Samba-Panza, a private industry figure who was appointed mayor of Bangui last year, has now become the second interim president since nominally Muslim rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize last March.  The leader of the Seleka rebel movement, Michel Djotodia, was subsequently elected interim president by the country’s Transitional National Council (TNC), because resigning from the post and going into exile earlier this month.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

Interim President Samba-Panza now has the difficult job of trying to end the crisis that has killed an untold number, displaced almost a million, and could lead to a potential food security crisis according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.  Some food aid has begun being delivered in the capital, but the UN’s World Food Program says it is only a fraction of what is needed.

Interim President Samba-Panza has called on Christian and Muslim communities to work together for peace and end the inter-communal violence in the country.  Though there has been some good news on this front, looting and violence by nominally Christian militias, referred to as anti-balaka, occurred on the very day she was sworn in.  This also highlighted the continuing insecurity in the country as looters were driven off by Rwandan peacekeepers, but returned after those peacekeepers were compelled to depart to guard the swearing in ceremony.

International peacekeepers have succeeded in at least moving ex-Seleka rebels out of the capital, Bangui.  It was reported that the former rebels left Camp de Roux, which had functioned as the country’s main military base in the capital prior to the ouster of President Bozize, after peacekeepers escorted some of their leadership out of the city.  However, this was then reportedly followed by other Muslims fleeing as well, fearing retributions.

It also remains unclear what this might mean for other groups of former Seleka fighters.  The rebel movement was, like many in the region, loosely organized with little in the way of a formal hierarchy and chain of command.  This became particularly evident when Michel Djotodia effectively failed in his attempt to disband the group after being elected interim president.  The United States has said it may place sanctions on anyone or any group found to be standing in the way of peace and reconciliation.  Only time will tell whether the new administration in CAR can move the country forward, with or without international help.

Armed Groups Declare Truce in CAR

Yesterday, nominally Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and nominally Christian members of so-called anti-balaka groups in the Bimbo area of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic declared a truce.  The announcement came in a public ceremony that saw members of the two factions put down their weapons, embrace each other, and ask for forgiveness and reconciliation.  The agreement reportedly came after mediation between the two sides by French forces.  It is clearly events like this that led CAR’s new interim leader, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, to declare today that the country’s recent crisis is now over.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

There is no guarantee, however, that this will be the case.  The country’s Transitional National Council has been given two weeks to decide on a new interim president, who will lead the country until elections can be held.  Nguendet is the speaker of this assembly, which is also the assembly that voted on Michel Djotodia as interim president last April.  Djotodia was the leader of the Seleka rebel group who violently ousted President Francois Bozize in March 2013.  His inability to control former militants was likely the most significant reason for the most recent explosion of violence.  Djotodia resigned the presidency last week following a recent meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) regional bloc.  Reports followed that Djotodia then left for exile in Benin.  Bozize has also since gone into self-imposed exile.  The TNC says it will be looking for a unifying figure.

It remains to be seen if one can be found.  In addition, the current constitution bars the person selected from standing in future presidential elections, which CAR is currently planning for early 2015, despite calls from the French and others to hold them before the end of this year.  The United Nations, which has given a formal mandate to French forces and the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), has also warned about the long term threat of inter-communal violence in the country.  Inter-communal tensions were one of the root causes of the overthrow of Bozize, who had made a deal with the Seleka rebel movement, which the rebels subsequently said was not honored.  Peacekeepers, who  have already had a checkered record in this crisis, are likely to remain in the country for the foreseeable future.  The UN estimates over two million people are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the crisis and almost one million of them have been driven from their homes.