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|The UN chief’s special adviser on genocide prevention has warned of a “high risk of crimes against humanity and of genocide” in the Central African Republic.
Adama Dieng and other UN officials briefed the Security Council on Wednesday on the continuing and unprecedented violence between Christians and Muslims in the country.
More than half the country’s 4.6 million people need assistance, according to the UN, and nearly one million have fled their homes after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a March coup d’etat that ousted former President Francois Bozize.
Christian self-defence groups known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) have taken up arms against them, and the UN estimates that retaliatory violence has claimed thousands of lives.
The officials spoke of children being beheaded, entire villages burned and a complete breakdown of law and order, and they urged the deployment of more peacekeepers as soon as possible.
“The level of hatred between these communities shocked me,” Dieng said, listing widespread reports of summary executions, mutilation and sexual violence among the “widespread and massive” human rights violations.
Restoring peace will be difficult “without addressing the current culture of impunity,” he added.
Dieng and the other officials spoke after a visit last month as violence spiralled.
Despite the dark outlook for the country, they expressed hope at this week’s election of Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president, and at the $496m in humanitarian assistance newly pledged by international donors.
They also welcomed the approval by European Union foreign ministers this week of a potential joint military force of about 500 troops to assist the roughly 1,600 French troops and about 4,600 African troops trying to restore order.
Samba-Panza pledged after her election to hold talks with armed groups.
“I want to meet with the armed groups and listen to them,” she told reporters. “If they took up arms, then there is a reason for that.”
The statements came as the Red Cross said it had found 11 corpses, most burnt beyond recognition, dumped in the capital Bangui.
Antoine Mbao Bogo, president of the Central African Red Cross Society, said nine of 11 bodies collected from Bangui’s mostly Muslim northern neighbourhood of PK11 earlier this week had been set alight.
He added that the Red Cross had collected 87 bodies in the past five days across the country.
|Gunfire has been reported on the streets of Bangui in the Central African Republic’s capital after the news that interim President Michel Djotodia, facing international pressure, had agreed to resign after failing to halt inter-religious violence.
The resignations of Djotodia and Nicolas Tiangaye, the prime minister, were announced on Friday in a statement issued at a two-day summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) in neighbouring Chad.
Talks to decide on new leadership will take place in CAR, it said.
Under an agreement brokered by the CEEAC last year, CAR’s transitional assembly (CNT) elected Djotodia to his position as interim president in April to take the former French colony to elections, due at the end of this year.
As news from the summit reached Bangui, thousands of residents took to the streets, dancing, singing and honking horns in celebration.
Cheers erupted at a camp for 100,000 displaced Christian civilians at the city’s French-controlled airport.
There were no signs of the pro-Djotodia fighters who once dominated Bangui, Reuters news agency reported.
Power vacuum feared
Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, reporting from Bangui on Friday, said the gunfire broke out shortly after the resignation announcement.
“It is not possible to work out who is firing at who at this stage,” he said.
“The international community is going to have to react very quickly as there is no one regionally who can unite CAR.
“The foreign troops are largely welcome but they are not necessarily enough. The trouble in recent weeks and month has not just been in Bangui.”
Despite the celebrations on Friday, there are fears that the resulting power vacuum will lead to greater instability if it is not filled quickly.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, said he wished for the new leadership to be announced “as soon as possible”, adding that “the aim is to move forward with elections before the end of the year”.
“We need the National Transitional Council to find a provisional alternative,” he said.
Thousands of people have been killed and one million displaced by cycles of violence since abuses by Djotodia’s mainly Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, prompted the creation of Christian self-defence armed groups after he seized power in March.
Chad summit decision
Djotodia’s resignation was announced after members of the CNT were summoned to the Chad summit late on Thursday to take a decision on the country’s future.
“We take note of the resignation. It is up to the CNT to decide what happens now,” Romain Nadal, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said.
“France does not interfere in any case with this process.”
With memories of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide stirred by the unrest, France sent hundreds of troops to CAR last month to support African peacekeepers trying to keep the peace.
But the killings have continued, and France has repeatedly voiced its frustration with Djotodia’s government.
France has 1,600 troops in the country, operating under a UN mandate to assist an African force that is due to be bolstered to 6,000 men.
It strengthened its military presence on the streets on Friday.
European Union officials have also proposed this week sending a military force to support the French contingent.
About 10,000 people are seeking shelter at the airport near the capital Bangui. [Reuters]
|UN officials are warning the Security Council that Central African Republic is on the brink of a catastrophe, with half the population made homeless since ethnic warfare broke out.
UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told the council on Monday that about 2.2 million people throughout the country need assistance, about half the total population.
About half the people of Bangui have been driven from their homes, a total of about 513,000, he said. An estimated 100,000 people are seeking shelter at a makeshift camp at the airport near the capital.
The Central African Republic has been plunged into chaos as the country’s Christian majority seeks revenge against the Muslim rebels, who seized power in a coup in March. Fighting between Christian and Muslim militias intensified in December.
An attack on Bangui by the Christian militia calling itself the anti-Balaka on December 5 triggered heavy unrest in the capitol, Feltman said.
A report in late December by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reported 600 deaths in Bangui in those attacks, and Feltman put the current total at “750 casualties” in the capital.
“The death toll outside Bangui is likely to be substantial,” he said. “Killings in Bangui and the rest of the country continue every day, and the population remains divided along religious affiliation,” Feltman said.
The UN Children’s Fund warned at the end of December, that children are being recruited into the militias, and verified the killings of at least 16 children since December 5, two of whom were beheaded.
In December the Security Council authorised a multinational African peacekeeping force, which is expected to increase its troop strength from about 2,500 to 3,500, to keep a lid on the violence. France sent in about 1,600 troops on December 9 to back them up.