A government spokesman disclosed on Tuesday that three hostages seized in the CAR this week were killed and three more seized later by another group were also killed.
Sources have indicated that three officials from the mostly Muslim Seleka alliance were attacked on Monday as they were driving through a neighborhood controlled by the rival milita. Later that same day, three young Christians working in a Muslim enclave of the capital Bangui, known as PK5, were abducted in an apparent act of revenge. Security minister and government spokesman Dominique Said Panguindji has since indicated that all six hostages have been killed.
Political sources in the CAR have reported that the assassination of the Seleka members is surprising as they belonged to a moderate faction known as the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), which is mostly composed of ethnic Peuhls. The missing men included the UPC’s spokesman, Ahmat Nejad, and its secretary general, Ahssan Bouba. The abductions come just days after anti-balaka militiamen briefly seized a senior figure in the transitional government outside of Bangui.
The incidents risks derailing talks that are aimed at restoring order in the country. The Seleka members had been participating in the talks, which were convened by interim President Catherine Samba Panza. Tensions have been running high in the capital since late September, when a Muslim man was killed – an incident that set off a new explosion of reprisal attacks. On Tuesday, hundreds of youths erected barricades made of lead pipes and wooden planks in the second district of Bangui in order to protest the Christian men’s abduction. They were later dispersed by security forces.
The Central African Republic (CAR) reported on Monday that more than sixty people died in violence in its capital last month as the government increased accusations that the clashes were part of an attempted coup.
A statement from the minister of public safety, Dominique Said Panguindji, who is also the government’s spokesman, disclosed that “the latest toll from the violence established by hospital sources is 61 dead and 300 hurt.” Earlier estimates had put the number of fatalities at about forty.
The violence began on 26 September after the murder of a Muslim driver. It then spread to several districts of the capital Bangui before French troops and UN peacekeepers from the 10,000-strong MINUSCA force restored calm. During this period of tension, protesters set up roadblocks and demanded the resignation of the country’s interim president Catherine Samba Panza, who was attended the UN General Assembly in New York. Due to the recent spate of violence, more than 30,000 people have fled their homes. After ending her visit short, President Samba Panza stated that those behind the violence had been trying to stage a coup. In remarks that were broadcast on national radio on 1 October, she denounced “an orchestrated manipulation by part of the population” to incite people” to rise up and resurrect sectarian conflicts.” That accusation was amplified in Monday’s communiqué, which stated that “whatever the pretext, this crisis, the latest in an unending series, is the result of a long-prepared and meticulous Machiavellian scheme to put a brake on the process of peace and national reconciliation and the electoral process…The crisis which has been imposed on us is nothing more than a coup d’état, planned by the enemies of peace and by politicians lusting for power, seeking to overturn the transitional institutions,” adding that “the organizers and their clearly identified accomplices staged an armed insurrection to take power by force.”
Speaking on 1 October on the sidelines of the General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that it was “clear” that the violence in Bangui “seeks to destabilize the country and imperil the transition process.” The CAR was due to hold presidential and legislative elections on 18 October however the polls will have to be postponed because of delays in registering voters.
On Wednesday, a UN expert warned that the country could descent into “civil war” if the latest upsurge in violence is not brought under control.
Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Marie-Therese Keita Boucoum disclosed that she fears “…that if this violence is not rapidly contained, targeted attacks based on ethnicity and religion inevitably risk increasing and leading to a real civil war,” adding that “disarming armed group s must be an absolute priority” ahead of presidential and general elections, which are due by the end of the year. Boucoum, who is the UN’s independent expert on the former French colony, called on the Central African government to “present a realistic and concrete plan” for disarmament and for reforming the security services. Meanwhile Bangui’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Leopold Ismael, also addressed the Human Rights Council, and called on the international community to “take concrete action,” charging that it showed an apparent “willingness to keep CAR in the abyss.” He further stated that those behind the violence “are known and are not hiding.” He urged French soldiers and UN peacekeepers already in the country to “oppose and stop these repeated outbursts of violence and killings.”
The latest wave of sectarian violence was sparked with the murder of a Muslim motor-taxi driver in Bangui on Saturday. Clashes over the past several days have left nearly forty people dead, with the UN reporting that almost 30,000 people have fled their homes. Presidential elections were due to be held in mid-October however it remains uncertain whether officials will proceed with the polls.
UN officials have received new allegations that peacekeepers operating in the CAR raped three young women.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, UN spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci disclosed, “these new allegations concern a report that three young females were raped by three members of a MINUSCA military contingent,” adding that one of the alleged victims is a minor. The rapes allegedly took place in the town of Bambari, located northeast of the capital Bangui, in recent weeks, with sources disclosing that the families of the victims notified the UN mission on 12 August. While Maestracci declined to name the nationality of the accused troops, sources have indicated that they were from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The new allegations come a week after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dismissed the head of the UN’s mission in the country, declaring “enough is enough” after a string of accusations of child sex and other misconduct carried out by the troops. The MINUSCA force, which took over from an African Union (AU) mission nearly a year ago, has been plagued by a series of allegations involving its peacekeeping forces, with sources disclosing that there have been at least 61 claims of misconduct against them, twelve of which involve sexual abuse. UN officials have disclosed that Burundi and Morocco are also investigating allegations of sexual abuse against their soldiers in MINUSCA. Meanwhile UN Peacekeeping officials have requested an urgent meeting with officials from the DRC in order to discuss the allegations. They have given them ten days in order to decide whether to investigate.
These new allegations also come just weeks before United States President Barack Obama is due to host a summit in New York on UN peacekeeping, in a bid to try to shore up missions. This latest sexual abuse scandal however is likely to cast a shadow over the event, which will be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. On Tuesday, in its first statement on the matter, the UN Security Council expressed outrage and anger over the mounting allegations, adding that troop-contributing countries must investigate the scandals. Under UN rules, it is up to member states to investigate and prosecute their soldiers who face accusations of misconduct while serving under the UN flag. Sources have disclosed that last week, Secretary General Ban told a special Security Council meeting that too many countries are slow in responding to accusations against their soldiers and that in some cases they do not respond at all.
In June, Ban appointed a review panel, which is led by former Canadian Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, in order to examine how the UN handled separate allegations that French and African troops sexually abused children in the CAR beginning in late 2013. Those findings are expected in the coming months.
The French government confirmed this week that authorities in France are investigating claims that French peacekeepers operating in Central African Republic (CAR) sexually abused children. French President Francois Hollande has vowed to “show no mercy” if French peacekeepers in the CAR are found guilty of raping children in exchange for food and money.
On Wednesday, a statement released by the French defense ministry disclosed that the French government “was made aware at the end of July 2014 by the UN’s high commission for human rights of accusations by children that they had been sexually abused by French soldiers.” The statement further disclosed that Paris prosecutors opened an investigation shortly afterwards, adding, “the defense ministry has taken and will take the necessary measures to allow the truth to be found… If the facts are proven, the strongest penalties will be imposed on those responsible for what would be an intolerable attack on soldiers’ values.”
Officials at the ministry have disclosed that the abuse was alleged by around ten children and reportedly occurred at a centre for internally displaced people near the airport of the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014. Sources have reported that children as young as nine were involved and that some were abused in exchange for food and money. An internal UN report has suggested that troops from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea are implicated. The UN report suggests that at least 13 French soldiers, two soldiers from Equatorial Guinea and three Chadian troops were involved in the alleged abuse. According to a French judicial source, some of the French soldiers have been identified however none have been questioned on the matter. Officials from Chad and Equatorial Guinea have not yet commented on the allegations.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq has confirmed that its rights investigators conducted a probe last year after “serious allegations” of child abuse and sexual exploitation by French troops had emerged, adding that it has suspended a staff member for leaking the report in July.
If these allegations are confirmed, this will likely have severe implications on the French mission deployed in the CAR, as well as on the Central African country, which continues to struggle to maintain security.