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CAR militias announce conditions before disarming
February 23, 2014, 4:03 pm

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warned of a "calamity" if additional troops aren't sent to Bangui [Xinhua]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warned of a “calamity” if additional troops aren’t sent to Bangui [Xinhua]

The “anti-balaka” Christian militias, which have in recent weeks been killing Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR), announced on Saturday that they will disarm only if the Seleka rebel group lay down their weapons.

The mostly Muslim Seleka fighters were routed from the capital Bangui amid political turmoil in December.

“We will lay down (our weapons) in the center of town in front of the international community … only on the condition that these bandits are disarmed first,” Sebastien Wenezoui, spokesman for the Christian militias, told reporters.

Muslims have reported daily attacks against them by mobs formed of Christian militias as well as citizens. Their bodies have been dragged around Bangui’s streets after having been mutilated, human rights organizations said.

France, which has been trying to restore order in Bangui, responded to UN appeals to bolster their presence in their former colony; they sent 400 additional troops to join 1600 others already stationed in CAR since December.

But the UN Secretary-General has indicated that may not be enough.

On Friday, United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said an additional 3,000 troops were needed in CAR to battle the growing sectarian violence, until the UN can set up its peacekeeping forces there.

“The deployment of a peacekeeping operation, if authorized, will take months. The people of the Central African Republic do not have months to wait,” Ban said. “The international community must act decisively now.”

The UN’s calls for intervention in CAR have been growing louder in recent months. With around 700,000 citizens displaced from their homes and nearly 2,000 killed since December 2013, Ban and other UN officials expressed fears the situation might quickly escalate to genocide.

The current crisis in CAR – a mineral rich nation of 4.6 million people – began when Seleka – a rebel amalgamation of several different factions – started moving toward the capital Bangui in March 2012, hoping to remove Francois Bozize, a military officer who seized power in 2003 and had been elected president twice since then.

The largely Muslim rebel group Seleka seized control of the Christian-majority country in the aftermath.

Early in January, the country’s National Assembly selected Catherine Samba-Panza to be the next president replacing Michel Djotodia – a Muslim, and former Seleka comander – who fled the capital Bangui to Benin in early January, a move that suggested violence might be quieting down in the capital.

However, Christian militias and citizens have upped their attacks against Muslim citizens in recent weeks, claiming to be avenging crimes committed by the rebel militias last year.

The European Union is also on its way to sending 1,000 troops to join around 8,000 French and African Union (AU) soldiers and peacekeepers.

Ban suggested that the number of international forces of European, French, and African troops be increased to 12,000 in the coming weeks. The reinforcements would help minimize the violence to keep civilians safe and prevent more displacements.

Analysts say that CAR is plagued with the instability and extreme poverty since independence from France in 1960 despite possessing vast agricultural, water and mineral resources, including uranium, gold and diamonds. The average monthly income is around $60.

In January 2013, a ceasefire was reached and an UN-sponsored peace process led to the formation of a unity government in which the president was allowed to remain in office till 2016, provided top ministerial positions went to members of the Seleka Coalition.

However, on March 23, the Coalition broke the national unity agreement and seized the capital Bangui. In the fighting, 13 South African peace-keeping soldiers were killed and 27 others wounded during a clash with the rebels. South Africa withdrew its forces.

Source: Agencies