At the opening of last month's ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, French President Francois Hollande raised an «alarm» about Central African Republic, saying «chaos has now taken hold there and once again, civilians are its victims». Back in September French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that CAR risked becoming a new Somalia if it did not get immediate support.
A month later, on October 10, U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution to help end violence in the Central African Republic. Resolution 2021, sponsored by France, backs the deployment of a new African Union peacekeeping force, known as MISCA (made up of forces from Chad, Gabon, Congo Republic and Cameroon), and demands swift implementation of a political transition leading to fair elections in less than 18 months. Summing it up, the Council underscored the primary duty of authorities in the Central African Republic to protect the population and ensure the unity of the national territory. It demanded that elements of the Seleka coalition and other armed groups immediately lay down their arms, urging them to participate in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs. The Council reiterated its condemnation of Seleka’s seizure of power on March 24, as well as the associated violence and looting.
The resolution expresses the Council's readiness to consider «appropriate measures» against those who «undermine peace, stability and security, impede the political transition and fuel violence». It stresses the council's intention to consider options to support the AU force established in July and asks U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit detailed proposals in 30 days, including the possibility of transforming it into a U.N. peacekeeping operation. The document condemns human rights violations by the Seleka former rebel coalition, which seized power last March in a coup, and confirms the Council's condemnation of the seizure of power by the Seleka rebel coalition group and the following devastation of the country's natural heritage noting «poaching and trafficking of wildlife are among the factors that fuel the crisis in CAR».
Aside from that, the new UN document broadens the mandate of the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Central African Republic, or BINUCA, promoting peace efforts and political transition, assisting in elections and helping investigate human rights abuses. It would also support the stabilization of the security situation by advising on reforms of the security sector, police and judiciary and the demobilization of combatants. The Council resolution allows BINUCA to go beyond Bangui and provides it with rights observers to investigate and report on human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and children. The document adjusted the mandate of BINUCA in the five key areas: support for implementation of the transition process; support for conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance; support for stabilization of the security situation; promotion and protection of human rights; and coordination of international actors.
This vote provides «a glimmer of hope in a nation where the State has collapsed», CAR’s UN Ambassador Charles Armel Doubane told the Council. Paris has about 400 troops in CAR protecting the airport and French interests. MISCA, which currently counts only 1,400 troops, after full deployment should be 3,600-strong, but new deployments are hindered by the lack of financial and military means. France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said he expects the council to adopt another resolution in mid-November «deciding effectively the support that we will provide».
CAR: rich poor state in deep trouble
The landlocked Central African Republic, or CAR, is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium, but decades of instability and the spillover from conflicts in its larger neighbors take their toll. The Central African Republic has endured a long series of coups and rebellions since gaining independence from France in 1960. Recently it has been blighted with insecurity since the toppling of President Francois Bozize by the Seleka rebel coalition on March 24.
Since seizing power, the rebels have been involved in committing atrocities. Some of the ugly incidences occurring in the country are cases of rapes, proliferation of arms, child soldier recruitment (thousands of children are forcibly recruited into the ranks of armed groups), malnutrition, and huge population displacement. Health centers have been closed, approximately one million children do not go to school and the population is deprived of the most basic services. Some 300,000 people are internally displaced or have fled to neighboring countries, according to the UN.
There is now a transitional government, headed by Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, entrusted with restoring law and order and paving the way for democratic elections. But armed clashes in the north-east have increased since the beginning of August, and the country is facing a dire humanitarian situation that affects the entire population of some 4.6 million. Christian militias have sprung up to defend communities against Muslims fighting for Seleka, which was officially disbanded by the transitional government.
Russia shares concern, calls for learning lessons of recent past
The CAR situation appears to be an element of the trend, radicals use to their advantage the mistakes of US-led Western foreign policy in and exploit the countries’ internal difficulties to infiltrate and cause chaos making life unbearable for local population. They try to do in Syria, for instance. This is a common threat for all. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in his interview on September 13 «We must be united by common threats and challenges, including the one which you mentioned, the proliferation of extremism following the Syrian crisis, like it happened in Libya when combatants are now present in dozen of countries, in Africa first of all, and Libyan arms are being shipped to those countries to support the extremist movement». He made precise that he meant Mali, Chad and the Central African Republic as the recent examples. Lavrov added, «We must be consistent – either we agree that any terrorism is unacceptable or we will be playing a double-standard game when some son of a bitch is okay because he’s our son of a bitch».
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement on the CAR situation issued as far back as this January stated, «Moscow is seriously concerned about the activities of the antigovernment coalition of Seleca militant rebels which resulted in deterioration of situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). We are convinced that further escalation of the domestic conflict could have the worst consequences for the CAR and threatens to destabilize the Situation in the Central African subregion».
Speaking at the New York conference devoted to the situation in Central Africa, Michael Margelov, the current Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council of Russia, special presidential envoy for cooperation with Africa, told RIA-Novosti agency on September 25 that Russia shares concern over the CAR situation. According to him, «It’s a degrading state ruled by Seleka field commanders, international community faces swift militarization and «somalization» of the country». He added that the violence is on the rise along the lines of interreligious strife on the brink of spilling over the national borders and the UN Peacebuilding Commission had a role to play.
Russia has rich experience in African peacekeeping contributing in the operations in Angola, Chad, and Sierra-Leone. At present, the military formation of the Russian peacekeepers is part of UN international force in Sudan.
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NATO went beyond the UN resolution 1973 in Libya, ignoring the Russia’s and China’s warnings about the consequences. The NATO’s intervention spurred a domino-like effect across Africa. It affects one nation after another – Somalia, Mali, Kenya, and now – the CAR. African regions are glued together by a delicate balance inherited from the messy colonial legacy. Instability in one African country can cause major instabilities throughout the region. A dangerous chain reaction has been started. The hand of West-inspired Al Qaeda lurks behind Seleka rebellion in Central African Republic… While the CAR has not been known as an al-Qaeda hot spot, the rebel coalition is largely although not exclusively drawn from the Muslim population. As such, it will no doubt be informed by al-Qaeda sensibilities and sympathies that are flourishing in a number of neighboring countries. It all relates to the situation in Syria where the support rendered to anyone against the government boosted the radicalization of opposition.
Some experts say that even at full strength the AU force would not be large enough to deploy beyond key cities to rural areas where there is also great instability. Others say the situation in CAR is too fragile to permit the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in the foreseeable future. Having been overshadowed by other conflicts such as the Syrian civil war, it still gives rise to concern – the country borders some of the most tumultuous countries on the continent including Congo and Sudan necessitating the international involvement, which could be efficient only if the lessons of the past are learnt.