Tag Archives: Central African Republic

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 – up to 100 killed in violence

Reuters

Up to 100 killed last week in Central African Republic as militia violence spreads – U.N.

By Crispin Dembassa-Kette and Serge Leger Kokopakpa | BANGUI

BANGUI As many as 100 people were killed last week in militia violence in southern Central African Republic and fighting fuelled by ethnic and religious rivalries is spreading, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The violence represents a new escalation in a conflict that began in 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters seized power and ousted then-President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisal killings from Christian anti-balaka militias.

Clashes intensified on Monday in the town of Bria, about 300 km (180 miles) from the southerneastern border town of Bangassou during the day, forcing about 1,000 civilians to seek shelter near the U.N. base, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) hospital in Bria had received 24 wounded people early on Tuesday as fighting continued, Frederic Lai Manantsoa, MSF’s head of mission in the capital Bangui, said.

Casualty counts have been difficult to confirm because of the ongoing violence and remoteness of the locations.

“I don’t know exactly how many but some were wounded and others died,” one Bria resident said.

Meanwhile, the U.N. peacekeepers mission, MINUSCA, said the situation in the border town of Bangassou was “under control” after an attack by Christian militiamen at the weekend killed nearly 30 people and forced thousands to flee.

In a statement, Dujarric said unverifiable figures indicate that up to 100 people may have been killed in three days of clashes from May 7-9 in the town of Alindao between anti-balaka fighters and an ex-Seleka group.

Up to 8,500 people were displaced in the fighting, he said, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs plans to lead an inter-agency fact-finding mission there.

In the town of Bangassou, at the border with Democratic Republic of Congo, MINUSCA troops captured strategic sites after air strikes on Monday, the mission said. A total of 26 bodies have so far been identified there after fighting at the weekend.

“The worst is over,” the mission’s top general, Bala Keïta, told reporters in the capital Bangui. “We are holding the terrain and our men are going to continue search-and-sweep operations.”

According to the U.N. refugee agency, the violence in Bangassou sent an estimated 2,750 refugees fleeing across the border into Congo over the weekend.

In Bangui, hundreds marched to demand that the perpetrators of violent attacks face justice after years of impunity.

“We notice, unfortunately, that the violence continues to claim victims,” said Evodie Ndemade, the vice president of a victims’ association. “Justice must be done now.”

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Central African republic – UN says death toll could reach 30

Reuters

By Serge Leger Kokopakpa

BANGUI (Hundreds of civilians are seeking refuge inside a mosque in the Central African Republic’s border town of Bangassou amid ongoing attacks by Christian militias that have killed up to 30 civilians, U.N. officials and aid workers said on Sunday.

The attacks throughout the weekend on the town of Bangassou on the Congolese border have involved hundreds of fighters with heavy weaponry and appeared to be aimed at Muslims, they said, in the latest sign that the multi-year conflict is worsening.

The U.N. base there has also been targeted, prompting the deployment of extra troops to the remote town on Sunday in anticipation of further attacks. They had succeeded in partly securing the town by dusk, said Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the U.N. mission (MINUSCA).

“The situation is extremely deplorable and we are doing everything to rapidly retake control of Bangassou,” MINUSCA chief Parfait Onanga-Anyanga told Reuters in an interview.

Asked about the civilian death toll, he added: “It is clear that we are looking at numbers that could easily reach 20 to 30.” Many of the fighters are child soldiers who appeared to be under the influence of drugs, he added.

Local Red Cross President Pastor Antoine Mbao Bogo said gunfire continued to ring out from the town on Sunday, blocking attempts by his organisation and others to reach the wounded and recover the dead.

In recent months, roaming militias spurred by ethnic and religious rivalries have stepped up violence despite pledges to take part in a government-led disarmament programme.

Aid workers say that militias seem to be exploiting security voids after Ugandan and French soldiers left in the past few months when their missions ended.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday he was “outraged” by the attacks on the 13,000-strong mission that have killed six peacekeepers around Bangassou, an area previously sheltered from conflict.

Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji condemned the attacks in a statement on local radio on Sunday and said those responsible would be brought to justice.

Central African Republic has been plagued by inter-religious violence since 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters seized power and ousted then-President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisal killings from anti-balaka militias drawn from the Christian minority.

More than 400,000 people in the former French colony are displaced internally and 2.2 million, or nearly half the population, are reliant on aid.

(Additional reporting and writing by Emma Farge in Dakar; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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)

Lord’s Resistance Army – “you belong to Kony”

African Arguments

“You belong to Joseph Kony”: How Dominic Ongwen and others became child soldiers

Testimony from a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army highlights the moral and human complexity of Ongwen’s case at the ICC.

The Lord's Resistance Army terrorised northern Uganda for several years. Credit: Martin Bekkelund.

Earlier this month, one of the most morally complex cases to face the International Criminal Court (ICC) resumed. In it, Dominic Ongwen stands accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed as a commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

In December 2016, Ongwen pleaded not guilty to the charges, arguing that since he was abducted by the LRA as a child, he is a victim of the rebel group.

Ongwen is the only LRA member out of the five indicted by the ICC who was abducted as a child. The other four reportedly joined voluntarily, including the still-at-large Joseph Kony, who founded the LRA in the late-1980s and is the only other surviving indictee.

The prosecution argues that Ongwen’s status as a former child abductee should not absolve him of responsibility for alleged crimes though the Chief Prosecutor conceded it might be a mitigating factor in his sentencing. The defence insist Ongwen was traumatised by the LRA and should be seen as a victim.

If accounts of other former LRA members can act as a guide, entrance into the group would certainly have had a profound effect on Ongwen. His abduction and daily existence in the LRA would have been characterised by extreme violence, both targeted at him and forcing him to target others, all in ways specifically designed to recondition him into a loyal fighter.

This is clear from the following vivid testimony of Okello, another LRA fighter who was also abducted as a child in early days of the brutal rebel group. His traumatic story reflects the experiences of many children forcibly conscripted. Without providing any answers, it highlights the complexity of the questions around responsibility and blame raised by Ongwen’s case.

It is excerpted from my 2016 book, When The Walking Defeats You: One Man’s Journey as Joseph Kony’s Bodyguard.

LRA child soldiers. Mid 2015, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo obtained by Paul Ronan.

Okello’s story

Okello started to talk about his life, as people usually did around the fire in LRA camps, following the Acholi tradition known as wang oo. Okello started his speech by lamenting the fact that he had no family of his own left, and that the LRA government was now his family, and Joseph Kony his father.

“My own father died when I was born, or that is what my mother told me. I had an older brother named Paul. People said he was crazy but Paul was not crazy, I knew him well. Paul had a sickness that made it difficult for him to understand others, but he was nice and always helped my mother and me. We lived in Minakulu, by the big road that links Gulu with Kampala.

The holies [LRA fighters] came to our village in 2003 when I was thirteen. It was early in the morning but it was still dark outside. Kidega was the commander, I know him well now. They kicked our door and grabbed us while we slept.

One of the youngus [child soldiers] held a razor blade to my neck and told me to go out. Someone grabbed mother and Paul. Paul was only sixteen, but he was tall and strong. He refused to be dragged and ran towards mother, who was being whipped by Kidega. She was too scared and confused to sit on the floor like Kidega asked her.

Kidega’s guard yelled at Paul to drop on the floor but Paul did not understand. He tried to help our mother so Kidega’s guard shot him in the stomach. Then they all beat Paul in front of us and let him bleed to death. We saw him die slowly, his blood just poured until he dried out, like a sheep being prepared for cooking. Kidega said mother was stupid for not controlling Paul, who now was dead because of her. ‘You are a bad woman,’ he said, and slit her throat.’”

Okello continued, his voice quivering when mentioning his mother.

“I was scared. When I saw Paul and my mother dead on the ground covered in blood, I could not move my hands or feet. It was like an evil spirit pinned me down. I was sure I was going to die and I wanted to. Kidega pointed his knife at my head and said, ‘You are now with the LRA, forget your family.’ The others pulled me up as I could not stand up and tied me with other children from Minakulu, also taken that night. We walked for hours until we reached the bush. I did not think I would live.

But these people here teach you to be strong. You have no choice but to obey and be strong or to die weak. The day after I was taken as we walked towards Kitgum, one kid called Olweny, whom I knew very well because we played ‘nine-stones’ together, tried to escape but they caught him and brought him back to where we stopped. Kidega then ordered all abducted children from Minakulu, thirteen of us, to pick up sticks and beat Olweny to death.

We were all in a circle around Olweny, who was really scared. He was small bodied and young, maybe eleven years old. He asked us not to kill him and started crying. Kidega made fun of him because Olweny pissed his pants. Kidega said, ‘If you don’t kill him, we will kill you.’

I picked my stick and hit him in the face, then everyone else hit him many times until he stopped moving and his brain came out of his head. I felt bad but I knew I had become a man then, a soldier.

Kidega told us to throw Olweny’s body in the bush, warning us that anyone who tried to escape would suffer the same fate. ‘You are now real soldiers of the Lord,’ Kidega said, ‘and you belong to Joseph Kony, our father.’

This is how I ended up here. This is now my family because God wanted me to be Kony’s child.”

Ledio Cakaj is the author of When The Walking Defeats You: One Man’s Journey as Joseph Kony’s Bodyguard (Zed books, 2016).

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)