On Sunday, just days after the Central African Republic’s interim government resigned, the country’s president, Catherine Samba Panza, named her new prime minister. The mainly Muslim rebel Seleka group however has rejected the appointment of the CAR’s first Muslim prime minister, stating that it wants no part of the new government.
Mahamat Kamoun was appointed prime minister Sunday evening, effectively replacing Andre Nzapayeke, who stepped down last week. Mr. Kamoun, an expert in finance, was the director general of the treasury under former president Francois Bozize. He later became a special advisor to the current interim president. While he has now been tasked with leading a transitional government that is seeking to implement a precarious ceasefire signed late last month, officials within the Seleka rebel group have rejected the decision, stating Monday that while Mr Kamoun had served as head of the tax-collecting agency, he was not a Seleka member. Abou Mal Mal Hissene, a Seleka spokesman, disclosed Monday that the group’s leaders “…think the transitional president didn’t take account of the views of the Seleka, which still controls the majority part of the country,” adding “the Seleka will not participate in the government.” The spokesman also reported that the fragmented collation of former rebels had learned of the appointment of a new prime minister “by way of foreign media.” Despite refusing to join the new government, the spokesman did note that the Seleka leaders remain committed to the peace accord, which was signed in Brazzaville last month.
On Tuesday, President Samba Panza confirmed that the government had resigned as part of a peace deal that was reached last month with the Christian and Muslim rebel factions. The resignation of the interim government, which includes Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke along with twenty other ministers, will make way for a new one that is more inclusive.
Mr. Kamoun, who is the first Muslim to serve as prime minister in the CAR since the country gained its independence from France in 1960, will now face the difficult task of revitalising a delicate political transition that is aimed at ending deadly sectarian violence and disarming militias. Despite the appointment and the promise of a more inclusive government, many hurdles remain on the CAR’s path to peace. The inclusion of armed groups within the future government remains to be a sensitive topic in on-going discussions. There are however signs that Mr Kamoun’s appointment may aid in reducing tensions.
While Seleka rebels continue to clash with anti-balaka forces, the Seleka coalition itself is weak and fragmented as its members are divided between those who support dialogue and those who refuse to make any concessions and instead call for a partition of the country. This appointment may ease the tensions between the government and former Seleka coalition members, and will likely undercut support for those pushing for a partition. Furthermore, Mr Kamoun’s appointment is likely to reassure the Muslim minority community, many of whom have been treated with suspicion by the country’s Christian population following the Seleka takeover in March 2013. While the interim president’s promises of a more inclusive government appear to be coming true, this has yet had an impact on the current situation throughout the country as tensions on the ground have not eased and the ceasefire signed in Brazzaville remains extremely fragile.
After weeks of relative calm in the capital Bangui, clashes erupted on Friday and Saturday between two rival factions of the anti-balaka militia. International peacekeepers deployed throughout the CAR were forced to intervene. The latest confrontations, which occurred in the Boy-Rabe neighbourhood in northern Bangui, came just two days after dozens of Seleka fighters attacked French peacekeepers who were patrolling the northern town of Batangafo. Two French troops were injured in the clashes.
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.
Over the past weekend, peacekeepers stationed in the Central African Republic recaptured control of the key town of Sibut after rebel fighters had taken control of the northern town late last week.
The commander of the African Union force confirmed that his troops had taken control of the town from former members of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebellion. General Tumenta Chomud further noted that “a Gabonese contingent from MISCA is in place in the town. It is clear that the Seleka fighters can be contained and they will be disarmed.” The announcement came just days after Seleka fighters captured the town of Sibut, which links the capital Bangui with the north of the country. The take forced hundreds of terrified residents to flee into the bush.
On Friday, French troops converged on the rebel-held town in the northern region of the country. French military aircraft hovered over Sibut, which is located 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of the capital Bangui. The town was seized by ex-Seleka rebels on Thursday, prompting African troops, and hundreds of frightened residents, to flee. A French communication officer indicated on that “a military operation is happening in Sibut,” while the presence of the aircraft was been confirmed by defence officials in Paris.
The capture of the northern town is just the latest challenge faced by peacekeepers struggling to maintain order in the CAR. Newly installed interim president, Catherine Samba Panza has criticized the rebel efforts, stating that they were aiming to “destabilize her mandate,” adding that “at the time when the government is calling for togetherness, tolerance and national reconciliation, some of our countrymen are taking upon themselves the heavy responsibility of dividing the country.”
The latest increase of violence, coupled with the taking over of Sibut, has indicated that the installation of a new government has so far failed to stem inter-religious violence between the mostly Muslim Seleka and Christian militia groups.
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