France offers support from UN peacekeepers for the deployment of Central African troops
The United Nations Security Council is weighing a proposal that would see UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic offer support to newly trained troops as they deploy across the country.
A resolution drafted by France would authorize the UN mission Minusca to “provide limited logistical support” to troops trained by the European Union, according to the text consulted by AFP on Wednesday, November 7.
The proposal is raising eyebrows, particularly from the United States, which is seeking to streamline peacekeeping operations to reduce costs and make them more efficient, diplomats said.
The council will vote next week in favor of “the rapid extension of state authority throughout the territory” by backing the deployment of vetted and trained troops in areas outside the capital Bangui.
President Faustin-Archange Touadera called in April for more peacekeepers to be deployed and for Minusca to shift from peacekeeping to peace enforcement.
The weak Touadera government controls about a fifth of the Central African Republic and relies heavily on Minusca for support. The rest of the country is controlled by at least 14 different militias who often fight for control of revenues from extortion, roadblocks or mineral resources.
The draft resolution also extends the mission of Minusca until November 2019 but maintains a ceiling of 11,650 soldiers. Last year, the council increased the authorized number of personnel by 900. Minusca is the UN’s fourth largest mission, after the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Mali.
Train and equip the Central African forces
The European Union has trained more than 3,000 people to serve in the Central African Armed Forces (FACA). In July, the bloc extended EUTM-RCA until 2020, pledging 25 million euros ($29 million) to help reform the country’s defense sector. The scope of the mission was also changed to provide strategic advice to the President’s office, the Ministry of Interior and the police, as well as the army.
Russian advisers also work with the FACA and provide security and advice to Touadera. In August, Russia signed a military cooperation agreement with the CAR offering the possibility for Central African officers and non-commissioned officers to be trained in Russian military schools.
More than 1,000 FACA personnel have attended Russian training programs in the CAR, which they undertake after completing the EUTM-RCA program. They are trained by Russian instructors in the use of weapons supplied by Russia.
The UN Security Council imposed its current arms embargo on the CAR in 2013, but arms deliveries to security forces may be authorized after special prior approval by a sanctions committee. The embargo was lifted last year by the Security Council to allow the delivery of Russian weapons, which the UN has since verified with the Ministry of Defense and Russia.
Russian Ambassador to CAR Sergei Lebanov said on September 17 that a second shipment of Russian arms and ammunition “is in preparation” and will be delivered once it receives Security Council approval. .
However, during a visit to the CAR on November 2, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that France would “soon” deliver 1,400 assault rifles to the FACA within a strict and transparent UN framework, adding that “it would be absurd to train soldiers”. and not giving them the means to perform their duties.
It is unclear whether the planned French shipment replaces or is in addition to the proposed Russian shipment.
In June, France, the United States and the United Kingdom suspended a CAR request for UN Security Council approval of arms deliveries from China.
On September 26, Touadera reiterated a call for “the total lifting of the arms embargo that still weighs on our national army” in an address to the annual UN General Assembly.
Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the outgoing UN special envoy to the CAR and head of Minusca, said the following day that the United States had also offered to send “new quantities of weapons” to the country.
Onanga-Anyanga said the need for arms was “undeniable” as the Central African Republic government beefs up its armed forces, but called for transparency in the flow of arms.
France, Belgium, China and the United States have recently provided equipment for the CAR army, but this equipment does not include weapons.
Competing peace efforts
The draft resolution also takes aim at recent Russian efforts to broker peace agreements in the CAR by making it clear that an African-led initiative is “the only framework” for a solution.
Working with Sudan, Russia convened talks in Khartoum on August 28 where four ex-Seleka groups and a rival anti-Balaka group signed a statement of understanding saying they had decided to “create a common framework for dialogue and action for a true and lasting peace.”
The Russian-brokered talks have drawn criticism from former colonial power France, which said there was “no alternative” to an ongoing African Union initiative, but the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs said Moscow “plans to continue its mediation efforts” in coordination with the AU and UN.
Supported by the UN and other international partners, a panel of AU experts has been working since July 2017 to set up negotiations between the militias and the government. France, Russia and the United States are observers in the AU initiative.
Just days after the signing of the Khartoum declaration, representatives of 14 militias held talks that could lead to negotiations with the government, a spokesman for the AU panel said.
The “positive” meeting ended with a single list of 104 demands, signed by representatives of the 14 armed groups that would be presented to the government as a “basis for negotiations between the two parties”, Francis Che said.
Touadera welcomed the AU meetings, saying that “the African initiative is the only frame of reference” for dialogue.
To step up diplomatic efforts, the UN and AU are considering appointing a joint special envoy, while Onanga-Anyanga will be part of the AU panel leading the peace effort.
A country divided
Despite reserves of diamonds, gold, uranium, copper and iron, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world.
The predominantly Christian country descended into violence after the ousting of President François Bozizé in 2013 by the Séléka, a coalition of mainly Muslim rebel groups.
The Seleka was officially disbanded within months, but many fighters refused to disarm, becoming known as ex-Seleka. Many others joined the mainly Christian anti-Balaka militia to fight the Seleka, leading to a spiral of violence between groups along both religious and ethnic lines.
By the end of 2014, the country was de facto divided – anti-Balaka in the southwest and ex-Seleka in the northeast.
Violence on both sides has claimed thousands of lives. Nearly 700,000 people are displaced, 570,000 have fled the country and 2.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the UN
France promises weapons and financial aid to the Central African Republic
With information from AFP