On 31 October, France formally ended Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic, almost three years after the military mission was launched in December 2013 in a bid to quell inter-ethnic unrest in the country.
The operation initially ran alongside an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, which was known as MISCA and which later morphed into the UN’s MINUSCA force, which aimed to help restore stability in the capital city Bangui. The mission has however, for the most part, failed to end violence elsewhere in the country, as clashes have continued to erupt in recent weeks and tensions remain high.
At its height, France had more than 2,500 troops from various French units that took part in the mission. In June 2016, France indicated that it had reduced its force in the CAR to 350 soldiers, who would serve as tactical reserve force for the UN peacekeepers, effectively announcing the end of its military mission there. The number of soldiers is due to fall below 300 by early next year with the remaining troops deployed as part of a European military training mission, to support UN drone operations or as a rapid reaction unit supporting the national army.
France’s withdrawal has effectively left security largely in the hands of MINUSCA, the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission, however in recent weeks, criticism of the force has increased, with local people accusing the peacekeepers of not doing enough in order to protect them. The National Assembly president, Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, has expressed concern that the French troops’ departure would exacerbate a deteriorating security climate.
About 3,500 French troops are currently stationed in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane in order to fight militancy in West Africa and the Sahel region.
Overview of Operation Sangaris
- 5 December 2013 – Widespread clashes erupted in Bangui, leaving hundreds dead in the streets.
- Christian milita groups, known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) attacked a number of areas in the capital city, targeting Muslims and triggering revenge attacks by the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebel alliance. Seleka fighters has already targeted the majority Christian population, a key reason as to why the anti-Balaka group emerged. Attacks by both sides, mostly targeting civilians, plunged the CAR into a humanitarian, political and security crisis.
- Several hours after the violence broke out, a French operation force began deploying across the country as part of a UN-mandated effort to quell the deadly wave of sectarian violence. The operation was named “Sangaris” after a small red butterfly that is common the region.
- At the time, French President Francois Hollande disclosed that the troops would remain in the country “as long as necessary,” noting however that the operation was “not designed to last.” Paris, which had already deployed troops to Mali in January of that year in order to battle jihadist groups, watched the situation in the CAR continue to deteriorate following the overthrow in March of Francois Bozize by Seleka rebels who were led by Michel Djotodia.
- An initial force of about 1,200 French marines, paratroopers and engineering units was official deployed to back up the AU’s MISCA force, however they quickly found themselves on the Front line. Their mandate was to “disarm all milita and other armed group s that have terrorized the population” and the fist objective was to secure the capital city and tis 4.5 million inhabitants.
- Between February to September 2014 – Combat troops also secured a road link from Bangui to neighbouring Cameroon.
- September 2014 – Un soldiers from MINUSCA took over the MISCA troops.
- 14 February 2016 – Faustin-Archange Touadera is elected president, effectively capping a chaotic political transition. Three months later, President Hollande visited Bangui, declaring that stability “has been restored.” Elsewhere in the country however armed groups continued to plague the population. Former Seleka units remain active and a total disarmament of militia groups appears to be unlikely.
- Since July 2014, the force has been under growing pressure following the emergence of allegations of child rape by French soldiers deployed in the CAR. French prosecutors opened an investigation, however the allegations did not become public until April 2015. Since then, other reports have emerged about troops’ alleged involvement in sexual attacks and giving children food and sometimes small amounts of money for sexual services. Currently, the Sangaris force is subject to three investigations into separate allegations of sexual abuse of children in the CAR. In June 2016, Paris prosecutors also opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that French troops beat up, or stood by while others beat up two people in the CAR.
- France has intervened military in the CAR a number of times. The CAR, which is a former French colony, won independence in 1960.
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.
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.
Armed men kidnapped a female United Nations employee in the capital city on Tuesday, just one day after two aid workers were seized.
According to a source within the UN’s MINUSCA force in the Central African Republic (CAR), gunmen on Tuesday seized a female UN employee from a van that was taking UN staffers to work in Bangui. A statement released by the UN MINUSCA force has since confirmed the kidnapping, stating “unidentified armed men kidnapped on Tuesday a woman who works for MINUSCA after having stopped the vehicle in which she was travelling. A similar kidnap attempt failed just a bit earlier.” Tuesday’s kidnapping reportedly involves gunmen who appear to be linked to the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia. The abduction comes a day after a French charity worker and a man were seized in an area of the capital city that is controlled by anti-balaka fighters. Both kidnappings appear to be linked to the recent arrest of a vigilante leader.
On Monday, two people, including a 67-year-old French woman working for a Catholic medical charity, were kidnapped in the CAR. It is believed that the second hostage is a local man connected with the charity.
According to on the ground sources, a vehicle carrying the two was stopped by armed men in the capital city Bangui, with the militants later driving off with the hostages. According to the driver of the vehicle, Brother Elkana Ndawatcha, “the three of us were coming from Damara (north of Bangui)…when we were stopped by a group of four anti-balaka (militiamen) armed with Kalashnikovs in the middle of the city…They let me go after they robbed me of my mobile telephone, my bank documents and my money,” adding “one of them took my place at the wheel and took my colleagues deeper into Boy-Rabe district,” referring to one of the militia’s strongholds in the northeastern region of Bangui. Sources have revealed that the kidnappers, who are from the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia, were angry over the recent arrest of one of their leaders.
The CAR national secretary of Catholic Charity Caritas, Abby Elysee Guendjiande, confirmed the kidnapping, stating “when we called…(the French woman’s) telephone later the kidnappers picked up and said: ‘Release our General Andjilo and we will liberate the hostages.” The French government has condemned the kidnapping and has called for the unidentified woman to be freed immediately. The French embassy in Bangui is in contact with the city’s archbishop, who has been holding talks with the kidnappers.
Both kidnappings come just days after the CAR’s senior prosecutor announced that UN peacekeepers had arrested a senior leader, Rodrigue Nagibona, also known as General Andjilo, of the anti-balaka militia.
Prosecutors in the CAR disclosed Sunday that a power vigilante leader, accused of masterminding a massacre of some 300 minority Muslims in December 2013, has been arrested. According to prosecutors, UN Peacekeepers arrested General Andjilo, who had been on the run for several months, on Saturday in the north-western region of the country. A judicial source disclosed Sunday that a Cameroonian contingent of the UN force, MINUSCA, arrested Andjilo in the town of Bouca after a fire fight with “his men.” Maurice Dibert-Dollet, Bangui’s general prosecutor, confirmed the arrest, stating, “General Andjilo is wanted for multiple alleged crimes including killings, rebellion, illegal possession of weapons of war, criminal association, rape and pillage.” General Andjilo is associated with an attack on a MINUSCA convoy in October 2014 that left one Pakistani soldier dead.