Just one day after peace talks were launched between the Central African Republic’s sectarian rivals, on Tuesday the talks were suspended after the ex-rebel Seleka group failed to show up for the second day of the forum. The suspension came one day before the deadline to reach a deal that the international community was hoping would bring an end to the on going violence.
Sources indicated Tuesday that delegates from the mainly Muslim Seleka had been provided a copy of the draft accord for the talks, which had been due to end on Wednesday, however they were apparently still studying the text. According to a member of the Congolese organizing committee, the two main negotiation sessions of the talks, one focusing on securing and bringing an end to hostilities while the other focusing on disarming fighters in the CAR, were suspended as a result. A third workshop on the political transition went ahead at the request of the regional grouping ECCAS.
The three-day forum for reconciliation and political dialogue, chaired by Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso and backed by a contact group composed of some thirty countries, was aimed at resolving the crisis that has already left thousands of civilians dead and has driven more than a million people from their homes, with many fleeing into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad. The continuing tit-for-tat attacks have also strained delivery of humanitarian relief, with aid agencies indicating that half the country is in need of humanitarian assistance. Around 170 Central African officials were taking part in the talks, including members of transitional President Catherine Samba Panza’s government, along with lawmakers, envoys from armed groups, political parties and civil society. While the Seleka rebel group’s failure to attend the talks signifies another set back for the CAR’s return to stability, recent clashes, that broke out as the talks opened Monday, have further demonstrated that the current on the ground situation is also far from reconciliation.
On Monday, new violence broke out in Bangui with the killing of a former Seleka rebel, which has sparked reprisal attacks from the mainly Christian anti-balaka group. The African Union-led peacekeeping force in the CAR, MISCA, has blamed the anti-balaka groups for the killing, stating the victim was on his way “to get breakfast” near the main hospital when he was killed. His death sparked allies of the victim to storm out of their nearby base camp, where they began looting, robbing stores and firing off shots and taking a group of students captive. According to a MISCA source, a “…number of youth from the high school next to the hospital were also taken prisoner by the ex-Seleka.” Although MISCA and European-led forces have taken up positions to secure the hospital area, where the fighting occurred, Monday’s violence has underscored the challenge facing peace negotiators in Brazzaville.
The CAR plunged into chaos when the Seleka rebel group seized power in a March 2013 coup. Since then, there have been months of atrocities that have been carried out by rebels gone rogue, which have in turn sparked reprisal attack carried out by the mostly Christian anti-balaka vigilante group.
The Central African Republic’s President Michel Djotodia has resigned at a regional summit that is aimed at ending the violence that has engulfed the country. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengay has also announced his resignation. The announcement, which was released in a statement by the ten-nation Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), was met with jubilant scenes throughout the CAR’s capital city Bangui. Shortly after the announcement was made, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for a replacement for Mr. Dojotida “as soon as possible.” On the ground in the CAR, French tanks have deployed around the presidential palace in Bangui in order to prevent protests.
Sources have indicated that on Friday, just before 0300 GMT, the regional leaders suspended their talks and requested that the CAR interim parliament draft a deal for President Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengae to step down. Over the past few weeks, Djotodia has come under fire for failing to stem the spiralling violence between mainly Muslim former rebels who brought him to power last year and militias formed by the Christian majority. Although he is due to step down when a transition period expires in a year’s time, his inability to rein in chaos across the country has prompted calls for a swifter change in leadership.
Over the past few days, regional leaders, and the CAR’s entire parliament, gathered in neighbouring Chad in a bid to end sectarian violence that has engulfed the country. Chadian President Idriss Deby, who had stark words, seen by many as a push to remove Djotodia, or at least to curb his powers, opened the summit. During his opening statement on Thursday, Chad’s president indicated that “the CAR is suffering deploy from the actions of its own sons, who are dragging their country down into a war that jeopardises its future.” President Deby called for “concrete and decisive action” to halt the violence that has pitted Muslims against Christian self-defence militias and which has resulted in the death of more than 1,000 people in the past month. On Thursday, ECCAS secretary general Allami Ahmat, a former Chadian foreign minister, stated “the solution must come from the Central Africans themselves,” adding that “neither ECCAS nor the international community have come to change the regime….It is up to those responsible (in the CAR) to decide the fate of their country.” All 135 lawmakers from the CAR flew to Chad on Thursday, where they were ordered by African leaders at the summit to draw up a proposal on their president Michel Djotodia’s future. As the high-stake talks took place in N’Djamena, thousands of residents in the Central African capital Bangui took to the streets, demanding that Djotodia resign. Regional leaders are anxious to stem the crisis as there are fears that the unrest extends beyond the CAR’s borders. Officials at the United Nations have warned that both ex-Seleka rebels and CAR former solders have crossed into the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo, causing local residents to flee.
Mr. Djotodia, the CAR’s first Muslim leader, seized power in March of last yea. Since then, twenty per cent of the population have fled their homes amidst intense fighting between Christian and Muslim militias. Since December 2013, and the arrival of more region peacekeepers and French troops, around 1,000 people have died in sectarian clashes. Many villages are now deserted and over the past month, the number of those who have fled the home has doubled, including almost half of those living in the capital Bangui. Furthermore, while mass slaughters have mostly ceased in Bangui itself, amidst frequent patrols carried out by peacekeepers, sporadic killings carry on almost every night. Officials at the United Nations have warned of an impending humanitarian disaster. Some 100,000 people have set up camp in one tent city near Bangui airport, close to the peacekeepers base. UNICEF has warned of a potential disaster in overcrowded camps in and around the capital city, where thee have already been several cases of measles, which could be deadly.
European Union nation states are considering whether to join in the French and African peacekeeping operations in the country, with a meeting on the issue scheduled for Friday.