The United Nations has launched a human rights investigation into the on-going violence that is taking place in the Central African Republic (CAR). The launch of the investigation comes after the UN Security Council ordered an inquiry in December to identify suspects who could be prosecuted for the violence. On Monday, inquiry head Bernard Acho Muna indicated that he hoped the presence of investigators in the CAR would help prevent genocide. The Cameroonian judge added that “we have to put an end to the impunity,” noting that the “hate propaganda” in the CAR was similar to that in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide that killed about 800,000 people. Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, before heading for the CAR, Mr Muna stated “we don’t wait until genocide is committed and then we call for prosecution….I think it is in our mandate to see how one can stop any advances toward genocide.” The inquiry will “…present to the Security Council a complete file so that the appropriate action can be taken.” A team of UN investigators will arrive in Bangui on Tuesday to begin interviewing Christian and Muslim victims of attacks, as well as senior political and military officials and activist groups. The commission, which includes former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda and Fatimata M’Baye, a lawyer from Mauritania, will spend two weeks in the CAR and will also look into Chad’s role in the violence. They will then draw up a confidential list of suspects for eventual prosecution, which will be submitted to world powers later this year. They will also be in touch with a preliminary inquiry, which will be carried out by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Since the beginning of the conflict last year, thousands of people have been killed while the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says that about 1.3 million people, a quarter of the population, are in need of aid. Tens of thousand of Muslims have also fled the country as Christian militias have stepped up their attacks since the forced resignation of the CAR’s first Muslim ruler, Michel Djotodia, in January 2014. Many Muslims have crossed the borders into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, while thousands more are living in camps inside the CAR. Although interim President Catherine Samba Panza has appealed for an end to the bloodshed, this appeal has gone with little success.
On Friday, UN aid chief Valerie Amos announced that fewer than 1,000, of the more than 100,000 Muslims who once lived in the capital city, remain in Bangui.
Somali Forces Launch Operations to Retake al-Shabaab Controlled Regions
Officials indicated Monday that African peacekeepers, operating alongside government forces, have recaptured several strategic towns in the south-western region of Somalia. The recapture comes just days after the African Union’s AMISOM force announced that it had launched a wide scale offensive against al-Shabaab militants in areas located near the Ethiopian border. The operation to remove the militant group from its last remaining strongholds in central and southern Somalia also comes in the wake of a sure of attacks in the country’s capital, Mogadishu, where al-Shabaab continues its bid to oust the internationally-backed government.
Speaking to reports, regional government official Abdulahi Yarisow confirmed the operations, stating “AMISOM and the Somali troops kicked al-Shabaab out of several key towns including Wajid and regional capital Hudur,” adding that “our military advancement will continue until we eliminate the enemy from the rest of the country.” A statement released by AMISOM indicated that troops had secured the towns of Ted, Rabdhure and Buudhubow, effectively driving out al-Shabaab militants from the area. The statement added that “the SNA (Somali National Army) and AMISOM joint operations signal the beginning of the renewed efforts by the Somali government forces working more closely with AMISOM forces to dislodge al-Shabaab from many of its strongholds across the country.”
Although Hudur had been captured from al-Shabaab by Ethiopian troops in March 2012, their withdrawal from the region resulted in the town falling back into the control of al-Shabaab.
On Monday, amidst continuing violence despite the resignation of Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic’s (CAR) interim parliament elected a new president.
Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza has been elected the interim president of the CAR, effectively making her the first woman to hold the post. During a second round of voting by the interim parliament, she defeated her rival, Desire Kolingba, winning seventy-five votes against fifty-three. The election went to a second round after Ms Samba-Panza failed to secure an outright majority in the first round.
Ms Samba-Panza, a Christian, will succeed the CAR’s first Muslim leader, Michel Djotodia, who resigned on 10 January 2014 as a result of mounting pressure from regional leaders and former colonial power France over his failure to curb the on going violence.
In all, eight candidates were in the running during Monday’s elections. Amongst them were two sons of former presidents, Sylvain Patasse and Desire Kolingba, respectively the sons of former president Ange-Felix Patasse (in power from 1993 – 2003) and Andre Kolingba (in power from 1981 – 1993). Another locally familiar name is that of Emile Gros Raymond Nakombo, a banker close to Kolingba who in 2011 ran for the presidency against incumbent Francois Bozize, who took power in a 2003 coup and was toppled by the 2013 Seleka coup. About 129 members of the National Transitional Council (CNT), which serves as acting parliament with 135 members in all, took part in today’s vote by secret ballot.
Prior to voting, each presidential candidate was given ten minutes in order to make a “statement of intent” to the CNT members who were then tasked with electing a new transitional leader by secret ballot in a single round. The newly elected president will be tasked with restoring peace in the CAR.
In March 2013, the CAR collapsed after Seleka rebels overthrew the government and installed Mr Djotodia to power. He however proved to be powerless in controlling his Seleka coalition, with many responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, mainly from the CAR’s Christian majority. While some Christian communities responded by forming “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) self defence militias, which were charged with attacking the CAR’s Muslim population, both sides have now ben accused of major abuses, with officials at the United Nations warning of a potential inter-religious “genocide.”
EU Diplomats Vote to Deploy Troops
Meanwhile diplomatic sources have indicated that European Union (EU) foreign ministers agreed, during a meeting in Brussels on Monday, to deploy troops to the CAR in order to bolster African and French forces already on the ground. The EU “crisis management concept” is the first step towards sending a force. According to an official statement released shortly after the meeting, EU ministers indicated that the operation would provide “temporary support, for a period of up to six months, to establish a secure environment in the Bangui region, with a view to handling over to the African Union (AU).” The statement further noted that the plan is to turn the current AU deployment in the CAR into a UN peacekeeping operation, with the aim of stabilizing the situation so that urgently needed humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians.
While the EU is expected to despatch 400 – 600 European soldiers to Bangui, correspondents have indicated that an EU force of up to 1,000 troops is likely. They will be tasked with backing the 1,600 French troops of Operation Sangaris, who have been deployed in the CAR since 5 December 2013 under a UN mandate, along with the 4,400 African troops from the African Union’s (AU) MISCA peacekeeping force. During this week, the EU will seek a mandate at the United Nations for such an operation, with EU experts later travelling to the CAR’s capital city in order to assess the cost. An EU diplomat has indicated that at the moment, “it is unclear what exactly will be needed,” adding that Greece has offered to host a mission headquarters while Estonia is prepared to send up to fifty-five troops. Several other countries, including Austria, Finland, Lithuania and Romania, are considering troop contributions.
The agreement for deployment comes as violence continues throughout the CAR despite the resignation of Michel Djotodia ten days ago. A month and a half into the French intervention, security in Bangui has gradually improved, however sporadic outbreaks of brutal violence still spread fear. Over this past weekend, the CAR’s capital city, Bangui, was the scene of continued violence as two Muslim men were killed and burnt on Sunday
Efforts to broker a ceasefire in South Sudan continue as a United States special envoy, along with other mediators, hold a meeting with rebel leader Riek Machar.
Reports have indicated that US special envoy Donald Booth met with Mr Machar at an undisclosed location in South Sudan. Mr Booth later indicated that mediators would continue to press for the release of jailed associates of Mr Machar for them to attend peace talks in Ethiopia. A rebel spokesman has also indicated that a ceasefire would be signed if Mr Machar’s associates were freed. Hussein Mar Nyout has also dismissed claims made by the South Sudanese government that is forces were now in full control of Unity State. He also described as baseless a government allegation that forces loyal to Mr Machar had damaged oil facilities there.
Calm Restored in the Central African Republic Following Leaders Departure
In the Central African Republic, after weeks of sectarian clashes, restive calm has returned to the streets Bangui, with banks, offices and markets re-opening. The country’s interim leader has also announced that the days of looting and revenge attacks were over.
Sources on the ground have reported that local residents of Bangui now feel safe enough to leave their homes across the city. The police have also returned to the streets while some local residents have stated that the city is the busiest it has been for a year. Many believe that this feels like a turning point as in recent weeks, there has always been at least one district, whether Muslim or Christian, where violence has resulted in people staying at home.
Following the rebel leader’s resignation on Friday, interim leader and speaker of the provisional parliament Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet vowed that the “anarchy” that has gripped the country would be swiftly brought to an end, adding that “the chaos is over, the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over.” He also issued a stern warning to warring militiamen from the Seleka group and the anti-balaka Christian fighters set up to oppose them. Speaking at a police headquarters in the capital Bangui, he stated “to the ex-Seleka, to the anti-balaka and the lovers of looting, I’m giving you a severe warning: The party is over.”
The return of soldiers and police to duty was another encouraging sign for the CAR after weeks of horrific sectarian violence. Over the weekend, hundreds of people lined up to re-enlist in the army, following an appeal from the chief of staff. Many of them had either deserted after the rebel takeover, or left in order to join the vigilante groups.
In recent months, the capital city has been riven by sectarian violence, with about 20% of the 4.6 million population said to have fled their homes.
Following months of fighting, Michel Djotodia seized power in March 2013, effectively becoming the CAR’s first Muslim leader. Although he later disbanded his Seleka rebels, attacks on Christian civilians around the country continued, prompting the formation of vigilante groups, which targeted Muslims. On 10 January 2014, following intense pressure from the CAR’s neighbor’s, Michel Djotodia, along with Prime Minister Nicholas Tiengaye, stepped down. The transitional national council now has two weeks in order to select a new President.
While the situation in Bangui is calm, the mood could quickly turn. On Monday, the Redo Cross reported that about fifteen people were killed ove the weekend, confirming that a degree of tension throughout the country
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.
Just days after rebels took over the capital city in the Central African Republic, Michel Djotodia, who has named himself the new President of the African country, has confirmed that his government will be examining all mining contracts that were signed with Chinese and South African companies while President Francois Bozize’s government was in power.
Michel Djotodia, a former civil servant turned rebel leader whose forces took control of the capital Bangui over a week ago, has indicated that petroleum and mining licenses awarded to Chinese and South African companies would be reviewed, indicating that he “will ask the relevant ministers to see whether things were badly done, to try to sort them out.” During his tenure in power, former President Bozize had awarded China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) the rights to explore for oil in Boromata, which is located in the northeastern region of the country, near the border with Chad. The contract was signed in a bid to tap the country’s under-exploited mineral wealth. In turn, South Africa’s DIG oil is also prospecting in the southeast of the country, near the town of Carnot. The review of contracts with South Africa and China may also signal that Djotodia and his government are marking a change from his predecessor Bozize’s close ties with South Africa, with which he had signed a fresh bilateral defence agreement in January.
However while the Central African Republic has large deposits of minerals, including diamonds and gold, decades of conflict coupled with mismanagement, have left the country’s people amongst the world’s poorest.