French troops to Central African Republic
France is escalating its military mission in the Central African Republic, airlifting troops and equipment to the capital Bangui ahead of an anticipated UN-backed intervention. With some 400 French troops stationed in Bangui presently, at least another 1,000 are on their way, said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Paris, echoing the findings of rights groups, says the country has descended into chaos since the Seleka rebel coalition, many of its fighters apparently from neighboring Chad and Sudan, ousted president François Bozize in March 24. (France24, Nov. 29) With the French announcement, Amnesty International issued a statement calling for the UN Security Council to "authorize a robust peacekeeping force" for the CAR. "If the Security Council does not act now to stem the horrific cycle of violence in the Central African Republic, that failure will hang heavily on the international community for years to come," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general. (AI, Dec. 12)
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius last week said that the CAR is "on the verge of genocide"—prompting a vociferous denial from transitional leader Michel Djotodia. He admitted that there have been reprisals by those wronged under the ousted regime, but said: "There's no genocide, there is not even an inter-religious war. All of this is made up to manipulate the opinion of the international community... He who wants to drown his dog, accuses it of having rabies, that's all. Our situation is no less dramatic than that in other countries but it is portrayed as such. It is unfair." (Reuters, Nov. 30)
Some 460,000 people, a tenth of the CAR's population, have reportedly been displaced in sectarian violence—especially in the north, where Christians have come under attack by Muslim militias, including some ex-Seleka forces. The official disbanding of the rebel coalition in September seems to have brought a freebooting spree rather than peace. In response to threats and massacres, Christians have recently formed an "anti-balaka" self-defense militia—balaka being the word for sword or machete in the local languages of Mandja and Sango. In the town of Bouca, north of the capital, "anti-balaka" forces have carried out reprisals against Muslim non-combatants, leaving hundreds displaced on both sides.
"The fighting in Bouca is indicative of how horrific violence is engulfing the Central African Republic," said Sylvain Groulx, CAR head of mission for Doctors Without Borders. "We are extremely concerned about the living conditions of the displaced, who are overcrowded in churches, mosques or schools, or living in the bush with no access to health care, food or water. Much more needs to be done and it needs to be done now." (CTV, Nov. 30)
Human Rights Watch, citing reports on the ground, says the "official" armed forced joined ex-Seleka forces in an ostensible attack on anti-balaka fighters that left the town of Camp Bangui, north of the capital, "totally destroyed," its inhabitants apparently having been slain or fled into the bush. The report calls Djotodia's official disbanding of the Seleka "an apparent attempt to distance himself from these abuses." (HRW, Nov. 24) (See map.)
The CAR regime is meanwhile calling for a ban on its diamond exports to be lifted. The Kimberley Process, established to stop the trade in "blood diamonds," announced a suspension of certified diamond trading with the country in May, two months after the rebels took power. "Diamonds have nothing to do with the situation in Central African Republic," said Herbert Goyan Djono-Ahaba, mines minister in the transitional government. "Our country was suspended based on risks but there was no proof that diamonds financed the war." (Business Day, South Africa, Dec. 2)
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