Tag Archives: anti-Balaka

Central Africa – militia violence leaves 300 dead

Reuters

DAKAR Militia violence in Central African Republic has killed around 300 people and displaced 100,000 in the last two weeks, the United Nations and the government said on Thursday, in the worse displacement since a 2013 civil war.

The violence marks a sharp escalation in the long conflict that began when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition overthrew then-president Francois Bozize in 2013, prompting reprisals from Christian anti-balaka militias.

Fighting in the last two weeks has hit the towns of Bria, Bangassou and Alindao, all hundreds of kilometres east of the capital Bangui, the U.N. humanitarian office and the minister of social affairs said in a joint statement.

“It’s a catastrophe,” Social Affairs Minister Virginie Baikoua told journalists after a visit on Wednesday to Bria. “Houses are burnt down, others pillaged … The displaced are afraid it could degenerate at any moment because armed men are roaming around the camps.”

More than 41,400 of Bria’s 47,500 inhabitants were displaced by fighting between May 15 and 18, the statement said.

The Red Cross said last week it had found 115 bodies in Bangassou, a diamond-mining area on the border with Democratic Republic of Congo after it was seized by hundreds of militia with heavy weaponry.

U.N. peacekeepers, part of a 13,000-strong force, have since secured Bangassou and reinforced their positions in other areas, the mission (MINUSCA) said in a statement.

Around 440,000 people were displaced throughout the country by the end of April and that number could reach 500,000 by the end of May. That would represent the most displaced since the height of the crisis in 2013, the U.N. humanitarian office said.

(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Additional reporting by Paul-Marin Ngoupana; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

 

Central African Republic rebels turn on each other as violence flares

IRIN

Fighters of the UPC militia in the Central African Republic town of Bambari

Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN

Freelance journalist and IRIN contributor

On both sides of the rutted, 200-kilometre dirt road that runs from Bria to Bambari in Central African Republic, villages lie empty and desolate. Cramped mud huts with thatched roofs have been reduced to ashes and rubble. Everything of value has been looted.

In Goumba – a small, Christian village to the west of Bria – Ludovic Valongere sat by the side of the road scooping cooked insects out of a large plastic bowl. He had returned two days earlier to bury his brother, killed when rebels from a group called the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) swept into the village a few months before.

“We were hiding from the rebels in the bush with no food,” Valongere, 38, explained. “One day my brother decided to return to Goumba for supplies but the rebels were still there. When they found him, they shot him in the head.”

To Valongere’s right a large pot of alcohol bubbled over an open fire in preparation for the funeral. Save the militiamen that sat languidly beside nearby checkpoints, it wasn’t clear anybody from the deserted village would be brave enough to attend.

Central African Republic has been wracked by periodic bouts of conflict since a largely Muslim rebel alliance called the Séléka overthrew the government of Francois Bozizé in 2013, triggering reprisals from a Christian militia called anti-balaka.

Now it is descending into levels of violence some say have not been seen since the peak of the conflict in 2014. Recent clashes between armed groups have left hundreds dead, villages like Goumba destroyed, and more than 100,000 displaced.

Days of fighting this week in the southeastern town of Bangassou killed 115, according to the Red Cross, while fighting in Bria left five dead and 15,000 displaced according to the UN. The week prior also saw five UN peacekeepers killed around Bangassou after their convoy was attacked by anti-balaka.

A fight between factions

Much of the current upsurge in violence is being caused by two factions of the now disbanded Séléka fighting one other. On one side is the Fulani-dominated UPC; on the other an ad hoc coalition of rebel groups lead by the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC). The new coalition includes elements of the anti-balaka, the FPRC’s sworn enemies just a few months ago.

A rift between the FPRC and UPC first emerged in 2014 when the former called for an independent state in northern CAR, a proposal rejected by the latter. Preferring to operate independently, UPC leader Ali Darassa has since rebuffed multiple FPRC calls to reunify the Séléka, threatening the FPRC’s hegemony over CAR’s rebel movement and resource-rich territory.

A man holds a home-made rifle in the Central African Republic
Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
Valongere’s brother was killed by rebels while looking for food

Clashes between the groups erupted around a gold mine in Ndassima in late 2016 and have since morphed into a full-blown bush war.

At the beginning of the year, fighting was clustered around Bambari, a UPC stronghold wanted by the FPRC. Desperate to prevent a battle in the city, which hosts tens of thousands of internally displaced people – the UN’s peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, deployed attack helicopters to stop FPRC rebels from advancing, while simultaneously negotiating the removal of Darassa.

Bolder blue helmets

The operation was considered a success for a mission that has often failed its mandate to protect civilians. “There was a willingness by MINUSCA to use much more robust force to deter attacks,” said Evan Cinq-Mars, who works at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, a New York-based nonprofit, as United Nations advocate and policy advisor.

But while preventing a bloodbath in Bambari – CAR’s second largest town – the operation failed to prevent violence from spreading to other parts of the country. Dislodged from its stronghold, the UPC went in search of new territory. So did the FPRC, according to a UN source, “looking to compensate for the huge material losses sustained at the hands of MISUSCA in the battle for Bambari”.

In March, UPC and anti-balaka elements clashed around the town of Goubali 2. In April, more clashes were reported in Bakouma and Nzako. And more recently, 56 civilians are thought to have died in Alindao, 100 kilometres south of Bambari.

In the past, MINUSCA has been able to count on the presence of Ugandan soldiers and US special forces to help deter fighting in a part of the country where its peacekeepers are thinly spread.

Security vacuum 

Both countries had troops stationed in the southeast as part of a campaign to capture Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. But that mission has now ended and, as troops withdraw, a dangerous “security vacuum” is emerging, according to Paul Ronan, researcher with Invisible Children.

“Ugandan troops had a presence in places like Nzako until relatively recently and did not allow fighting of this nature to occur,” Ronan said. “The violence we have seen in the last two weeks shows the withdrawal of US and more significantly Ugandan troops is creating a vacuum that other armed groups can fill.”

While the current conflict is primarily rooted in a struggle for power over land and CAR’s mineral-rich resources, violence is also following ethnic lines. Anti-balaka and FPRC have targeted Fulani civilians associated with the UPC, and UPC fighters have targeted non-Fulani in response.

“We’re seeing the conflict morph into these reprisal killings,” said Lewis Mudge, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “A couple of Fulani are killed, then a couple of non-Fulani are killed in return. They increase and increase until we get to massacres of 15 to 20 civilians.”

A camp for displaced people in Bria, Central African Republic
Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
Some 1,500 displaced people live in a makeshift camp in the town of Bria

Pushed out of FPRC territory in Bria last November, the UPC went on a rampage, killing, looting, and burning villages like Goumba where many Christians lived.

At a makeshift camp beside a UN base in Bria, 1,500 Christians from across the region are now living in deplorable conditions. Stood arms folded in front of a flimsy tent, 50-year-old Josephene Lengba said UPC combatants forced her family of 15 to flee in late March after the rebels “killed [people] and burnt down homes”.

Dead unburied

“We saw the people that they had killed,” she said. “There were many of them. Some of the dead people were lying on the ground for many days because there was nobody to bury them. [Eventually] we fled to the bush. If we hadn’t, they might have killed us too.”

On the other side of town Fulani civilians in Bria are living in enclaves under the protection of UN peacekeepers. Those that leave face harassment, extortion, and in some cases death.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, 40-year-old Abdouley Aiclia said her Fulani husband was decapitated, stuffed in a large plastic bag and thrown into a river. Now she is unable to feed her four children.

“There is nobody that can help me,” she said, cradling her youngest and nervously thumbing an amulet.

Even the enclaves are dangerous. In late March, anti-balaka breached a UN checkpoint and attacked the population with spears and hunting rifles.

“Go! Kill them! Slaughter them!” Yerima Ahmatou, remembers hearing as he was praying at the local mosque. Three people were shot, he said, including one in the eye.

FPRC general Ibrahim Alawa denied the group is targeting Fulani civilians.

“Our problem is Ali Darassa,” said the coarse 54-year-old, based in Bria. “He has decided to be King of the Fulani and wants to make them into an army. We tried to tell him: ‘We are one country, you can’t rule with one wing.’”

Them and us

But the FPRC has repeatedly cast the UPC as a foreign force, playing on a stereotype that views the traditionally nomadic cattle-herding Fulani community as outsiders.

As things stand, mutual antipathy towards Fulani has been enough to hold together an improbable alliance with anti-balaka. But few believe it will last for long.

“I don’t think these groups have established any degree of the Central African brotherhood that they claim,” said Mudge. “Once the Fulani have been marginalised, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if they start attacking each other again.”

As well as civilians, international interveners also face an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable environment.

Last week’s attack on UN peacekeepers, “was the deadliest incident against MINUSCA since being deployed”, said Cinq-Mars. “We haven’t seen anything like this in terms of the sheer scale of deaths and injuries”.

Meanwhile, 33 incidents targeting humanitarians were recorded during the first quarter of the year, including 16 since March in the northern province of Ouham.

“We are not able to deliver [aid] anymore,” said Kathy M. Kabeya, head of mission for INTERSOS, an Italian NGO that recently suspended operations in the Ouham region. “We need humanitarian access. We need to reach these people. They rely 100 percent on humanitarian assistance.”

New fighting and access challenges are aggravating an already underfunded humanitarian crisis. In Bria, displaced people face squalid conditions with scant food, water, or medical supplies.

“We don’t have money to buy anything to eat,” said 34-year-old Roger Mapouka, laughing grimly as a storm turned the camp into a swamp. “We just sit here like this.”

pk/am/ag

Central African Republic – dozens of civilians killed

Reuters

DAKAR Armed groups in Central African Republic have killed at least 45 civilians in apparent reprisal strikes over the past three months, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Tuesday.

The violence pitted armed groups against one another in the central province of Ouaka, which is at the border of the mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south of the country.

“As factions vie for power in the Central African Republic, civilians on all sides are exposed to their deadly attacks,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at the U.S-based human rights watchdog.

Central African Republic has seen violence since 2013, when a mainly Muslim rebel coalition called the Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize and went on looting and killing raids, prompting Christians to form self-defence militias.

The Seleka and other groups have since splintered, prompting further violence even as the country held a democratic election won by President Faustin-Archange Touadera who was sworn in in March 2016.

One witness to the recent attacks, identified only as Clement, said advancing fighters from the Fulani Union for Peace in Central Africa (UP) shot four of his children dead including a seven-month-old baby during an attack in March.

Killings by the rival Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPC) were also reported.

HRW based its tally on interviews with residents in the town of Bambari in April. It said the overall figure was likely higher since dozens of people are still missing.

The United Nations which has a 13,000 safe-keeping mission in the former French colony has sought to disperse fighters with air strikes in Ouaka as they advanced on the town of Bambari. The United States has imposed sanctions on militia leaders.

Still, the violence persists. Medical charity MSF said last month it is the worst seen in a years-long conflict and reported mutilations and summary executions.

(Story corrects typographical errors paragraphs 8 and 9, corrects abbreviation for Medecins Sans Frontieres in last paragraph to MSF instead of MS.)

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Toby Chopra)

Can South Africa risk going back into CAR, even on a training mission?

Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane)

The wheel turns full circle as SA mulls another mission to train the Central African Republic’s army.
13 Apr 2017 <!––>  /  by Peter Fabricius

On an official visit to South Africa last week, Central African Republic (CAR) President Faustin-Archange Touadéra promised his counterpart Jacob Zuma that his country would build a monument to honour 15 South African soldiers at the place on the outskirts of the capital Bangui where they were killed by Seleka rebels four years ago.

Touadéra expressed his condolences to Zuma for the deaths of the soldiers and thanked him for the support South Africa had given CAR during its crisis in 2013. South African defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the national broadcaster SABC that her government would help the families of the fallen soldiers to visit the monument in Bangui to pay respects to their loves ones.

But four years later, it’s still not generally clear why those 15 brave soldiers died. What exactly were they doing there in the first place? In January 2013 Zuma had sent an understrength force of about 225 troops to reinforce the handful of soldiers who had been in CAR since 2006 – ostensibly training the presidential guard of former president, François Bozizé. The reinforcements could only slow the huge advance of Seleka, which toppled Bozizé a few hours later.

The mainly-Muslim Seleka then made matters worse, imposing a bloody reign of terror, which provoked an equally bloody retaliation from a Christian militia group anti-Balaka.

Regional, French and finally United Nations troops then sufficiently suppressed the warring militias to allow relatively peaceful elections in February last year which brought Touadéra – a former prime minister of Bozizé – to power.

But violence continues and the ex-Seleka and ex-anti-Balaka, although in different guises, are still terrorising the wretched central Africans and threatening to topple Touadéra’s very fragile government.

And so part of Touadéra’s mission to Pretoria was to seek South Africa’s help in strengthening his state against these forces of chaos, both directly and indirectly. He sought the government’s help in encouraging investment, mainly in sorely-need infrastructure, transport, mining and construction. He also sought assistance in improving the technical capacity of the CAR public service, including diplomats, the police and – especially – the army.

Most of this would be easy for South Africa which is eager to invest in CAR and several South African companies have already been approached by CAR to do so. South Africa has also established a tradition of providing civil service training to post-conflict countries, like South Sudan (although with mixed results) and so Zuma readily agreed to provide most of the help Touadéra sought, an official said.

The South African government is also well-disposed to a request from Touadéra for help in launching a major, countrywide reconciliation process to consolidate the country’s fragile peace. Pretoria appreciates Touadéra’s efforts so far to establish an inclusive and diverse government but says he needs to go further by embracing the rest of society, including the churches, in a wider reconciliation effort.

Important decisions remain to be taken, perhaps most critically, the usual post-conflict dilemma of how to get the balance right between amnesty and justice. Both inside CAR and among the various elements of the international community, the debate continues to rage. And there are reported divisions within Touadéra’s inner circle about whether the exiled Bozizé should be allowed to return to play a role in politics.

Pretoria stands ready to dispatch its experts to share their experience of the reconciliation process in South Africa, as they have already done many times in other post-conflict countries.

But, officials say, the one request of Touadéra which Zuma is still ‘applying his mind to’ is that for help in training up an army.

Pretoria is mindful that establishing a professional, national army is probably Touadéra’s highest priority. The government’s monopoly of the use of legitimate force hardly extends to the city limits of the capital, let alone into the hinterland where various predatory forces – including illegal miners and the remnants of the Lord’s Resistance Army, not just the Seleka and anti-Balaka offshoots – hold sway.

The ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka militias remain the main problem though. They are supposed to be submitting to disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, as laid down in an agreement reached in Angola in December. But they are reportedly still holding their many guns to Touadéra’s head, making unrealistic demands for high positions in the national army and the cabinet, before they make peace.

Mediation efforts by Angola – and even the African Union, according to the journal Africa Confidential – and pleas to Chadian President Idriss Deby, to use his purported influence over Seleka to persuade them to stop fighting, have so far not born fruit.

The South African official said that in any case, these ragtag killers were the last people Touadéra needed to incorporate if he intended to create a professional, neutral army to extend legitimate order over the whole country. ‘He already has the manpower, he just needs the training,’ one said. He praised the European Union for its help in training 200 CAR soldiers for this army but added that the pace was too slow as a total of 8 000 soldiers was needed and so more training was required.

Mapisa-Nqakula, though, told the SABC during Touadéra’s visit quite categorically that South Africa would definitely not be sending troops to CAR again. A senior official nonetheless told ISS Today, that ‘we might consider lending a hand.’ He explained the apparent contradiction with what Mapisa-Nqakula had said by insisting that if South Africa did provide training, it would take place outside CAR. ‘Certainly we have no plans to send troops soon into CAR, in any capacity,’ he underscored.

Pretoria is clearly still painfully conscious of how that seemingly-innocent training intervention of 2006 morphed almost imperceptibly into the fatal firefight of March 2013.

But if South Africa is wary of stepping back into CAR in whatever form, others remain sceptical too. Stephanie Wolters, Head of the Peace and Security Research Programme at Pretoria’s Institute for Security Studies, suggests that we should be rather circumspect about Pretoria’s re-entry, ‘given the history between South Africa and CAR of exchanging business interests for government resources.’

She also cautions that ‘rebuilding CAR is not something that is going to happen overnight. The country is really the original failed state and we have been down this road before.’

Peter Fabricius, ISS Consultant

Picture: ©GCIS

In South Africa, Daily Maverick has exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles. For media based outside South Africa and queries about our re-publishing policy, email us

Central Africa Republic – rebels kill 32 in Bakala

Reuters

Rebels in Central African Republic killed at least 32 civilians after clashes with a rival armed group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday, a sign of the fighters’ growing boldness amid limited state authority.

Despite successful elections last year that were seen as a step toward reconciliation after years of civil conflict, the government and a 13,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping mission have struggled to contain killing sprees by rebel groups.

The Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC) rebels carried out the killings on Dec. 12 in the town of Bakala, where they had been fighting the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC), HRW said in a statement.

The UPC lured 25 of the civilians to a local school where it shot them after killing seven others earlier the same day, HRW said. At least 29 other civilians have been killed in fighting around Bakala since late November, it added.

“They certainly feel emboldened to commit worse and worse crimes,” said HRW researcher Lewis Mudge of the rebels in an interview, adding the civilians were likely targeted because they were thought to be allied with rival groups.

Both the FPRC and UPC are former members of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel alliance that united to oust then-President Francois Bozize in 2013, sparking backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.

But the two groups have since fallen out over competition for territory and control of tax revenues. The Muslim FPRC are now allied with the Christian anti-balaka, an indication of the waning role of ideology in the conflict.

On Wednesday, the government appointed a prosecutor to a U.N.-backed special criminal court created to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity, a potential first step toward bringing rebel leaders to justice.

(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Aaron Ross and Toby Chopra)

Central African Republic – UN air strike hits militant fighters

Reuters

A top militant and three others were killed in Central African Republic when a U.N. helicopter fired on fighters advancing towards the town of Bambari, a rebel group said on Sunday.

The UN’s mission known as MINUSCA shot at fighters from the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC), on Saturday after they crossed a “red line” it had set north of the town, said spokesman Vladimir Monteiro.

“We were looking to prevent war in Bambari,” he said, referring to the town about 250 km (155 miles) northeast of the capital Bangui.

A death toll had not yet been established, he added.

The FPRC is the largest group within a mostly Muslim rebellion formerly known as Seleka which ousted then-President Francois Bozize in 2013.

Months of reprisal killings between Muslims and Christians ensued, resulting in thousands of deaths, until elections last year ushered in relative calm.

“MINUSCA used air strikes yesterday against our fighters near Ippy,” said Azor Kanite, the FPRC’s deputy commander. “Our top commander (Joseph Zonduko) and three civilians were killed by the bombings,” he added.

Despite multiple attempts to promote dialogue and disarmament between fighters in the aftermath of last year’s polls, flare-ups in the former French colony are common.

Since November, FPRC fighters have been fighting the mostly Fulani Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) around Bambari, killing dozens and displacing around 20,000 people.

The U.N.’s top genocide official said in November that the FPRC had singled out ethnic Fulani in the town of Bria, carrying out house-to-house searches, killing, looting and abducting residents.

(Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kete in Bangui and Emma Farge in Dakar; Editing by Stephen Powell)

Central African Republic – Amnesty says war crimes going unpunished

Reuters

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Perpetrators of war crimes including murder and rape in Central African Republic are going unpunished and fuelling worsening violence in the country, Amnesty International said on Wednesday as it called for funds to rebuild the national justice system.

Dozens of people suspected of committing war crimes and other rights abuses have avoided investigation and arrest, and some are living alongside their victims in a nation divided along ethnic and religious lines, the human rights group said.

“The national justice system is on its knees. It was weak prior to the conflict and collapsed in 2013,” Amnesty researcher Ilaria Allegrozzi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“Thousands of victims of human rights abuses are still waiting for justice to be served, while individuals who have committed horrific crimes like murder and rape roam free.”

Central African Republic has been plagued by conflict since March 2013, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power, sparking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.

Despite a February election seen as a step toward reconciliation, Amnesty said a lack of justice had contributed to an increase in violent clashes in recent months.

Few courts are running outside of the capital Bangui, and just eight out of 35 prisons in the country are functional, with poor security resulting in several prison breaks, Amnesty said.

The country’s U.N. peacekeeping mission, which civilians say does not do enough to protect them from armed groups, has helped authorities arrest 384 people for crimes linked to the conflict between September 2014 and October 2016, the report said.

Yet this figures includes only a handful of high-profile individuals suspected of having committed the most serious crimes, according to the rights group.

In addition to rebuilding its courts, prisons and police force, the country must set up as soon as possible the Special Criminal Court, a hybrid court of national and international judges to try individuals suspected of war crimes, Amnesty said.

More funding is needed to ensure the court can run for at least five years, and donor countries should also help by nominating qualified judges and legal staff, the report said.

“Sustainable funding for the Special Criminal Court, including robust witness protection programmes, is an essential step towards justice,” Allegrozzi said.

The Central African Republic government could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)