By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS (PA) – The leader of the Central African Republic on Monday called his unilateral ceasefire announcement a new effort to restore peace to his country in crisis. And he and he strongly defended his decision to ask Russian instructors and Rwandan forces to help counter rebels threatening the government, a move that has met with strong Western opposition.
Despite the differences, especially on the involvement of Russia in this impoverished country, the UN Security Council welcomed Friday the announcement by President Faustin Archange Touadera of a ceasefire. The 15 council members called it an “important step” towards the implementation of the February 2019 peace agreement between the government and 14 rebel groups “which is the only viable path to peace and stability”.
The most powerful body of the UN expressed concern that some signatories to the peace agreement continue to ignore the commitments they have made and urged “all stakeholders present in RCA to respect the ceasefire ”.
Touadera said his government supported the September 16 call for a ceasefire by leaders of the Great Lakes region, which was part of a roadmap for peace they adopted during ‘a summit in Angola “to breathe new life” into the 2019 peace agreement.
“My declaration of ceasefire demonstrates (…) that our only ambition is to eventually find a lasting political solution in the CAR to the crisis we are going through”, declared the president.
The mineral-rich country has faced deadly inter-communal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power and forced then-President François Bozizé to step down. Overwhelmingly Christian anti-Balaka militias then retaliated, also targeting civilians in the streets. Thousands of people have been killed and most Muslims in the capital have fled in fear.
A peace deal between the government and 14 rebel groups was signed in February 2019, but violence erupted after the Constitutional Court rejected Bozizé’s presidential candidacy last December. Touadera won a second term with 53% of the vote, but he continues to face opposition from a rebel coalition linked to Bozizé.
Touadera said in a virtual briefing to the council that government forces, along with Russian instructors and Rwandan troops, outwitted the rebels and were able to protect civilians, secure the presidential and legislative elections. “Safely”, and the delivery of desperately needed supplies. humanitarian aid.
In June, the United States, Britain and France accused Russian mercenaries of operating alongside government forces, of committing human rights violations against civilians and of obstructing peacekeeping. of ONU. Russia has vehemently denied these claims.
Touadera made no mention of mercenaries in his briefing.
But France’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Nathalie Broadhurst said the presence of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company believed to have close ties to the Kremlin, is “deeply destabilizing” for the Central African Republic and well documented. in UN reports.
“It is a factor of war and not a factor of peace,” she said. “The evidence of the abuses committed by this group is mounting: extrajudicial arrests, summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence, threats against human rights defenders and obstruction of humanitarian access.
Broadhurst also accused Wagner of “taking advantage of his position to engage in organized predation on natural resources” which is expected to benefit the country’s economy.
Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Anna Evstigneeva countered that Russian instructors have successfully improved the professionalism of the forces of the Central African Republic and are not fighting. “Thanks to this, the military situation in the country has stabilized,” she said.
She made no mention of the Russian mercenaries and instead responded to the accusations of the council members by saying: “They should focus their attention on the blatant cases of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by their own military and companies. private. They should also analyze the results of their long-standing military participation and involvement in military campaigns in Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said reports indicated that the forces of the Central African Republic and individuals identified by Russia as “instructors” had committed numerous violations of humanitarian law and human rights violations.
“We hope that last week’s ceasefire announcement will put an end to these activities for good,” she said, adding that only the full implementation of the 2019 peace agreement and a inclusive political dialogue can restore peace.
UN special envoy Mankeur Ndiaye told the council there were 41 documented violations of the UN status of forces agreement with the government of the Central African Republic between June 1 and October 1 which “negatively affect trust, partnership and peaceful coexistence”. The violations involve government troops and their supporters and include the arrest and detention of UN personnel and the blocking of their freedom of movement, he said.
Ndiaye described the situation as “particularly deplorable” because the UN force of 14,000 men in the country has never been confronted with such incidents before the deployment by the government of “bilateral forces”. He welcomed the commitment of the government of Touadera “to put an end to this situation”.
Calling the situation “volatile and highly unpredictable”, African Union Commissioner Adeoye Bankole called on the government to end all “acts of hostility” and bring the perpetrators to justice.
He called for an immediate ceasefire by armed groups and a return to the peace agreement. In a virtual briefing, he also welcomed preparations for a national dialogue, saying it must be inclusive.
“I want to assure you that the ceasefire declared by President Touadera, if it is effective, will be a game changer,” Bankole said.