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.
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.
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
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.