West & Central Africa

Lift arms embargo, Bishop tells UN

The Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa and Vice President of Central African Republic’s (CAR) Bishops’ Conference has called for the lifting of a arms embargo imposed on the country since 2013 which bans all supplies of arms except to government forces. He also welcomed the United Nations’ strengthening of peace-keeping operations in the country.

“Armed groups are killing and maiming people. Unless concrete action is taken to disarm and resist them, nothing can be achieved,” argued the Bishop

Bishop Nestor-Desire said: “Some of the peacekeeping contingent lacked equipment” and they are challenged by much “bureaucracy, so this reinforcement is an important step.”

Reports of the intractable war in CAR continues as the Seleka Muslim Militia continue their campaign of killings. In turn, this prompts reprisals from the so-called Christian Anti-Balaka militia who have formed to defend their  communities in the absence of any government action to provide protection and security.

In September 2017, the north-western town of Bocaranga was attacked. Thousands were displaced, many of them women and children. “Others sought refuge in the Catholic church compound or in schools, and others at the UN peacekeepers’ base (MINUSCA).

Witnesses said. “Early the following day, just after 5am, a MINUSCA patrol was seen near the Catholic church compound. Two armoured vehicles were stationed at its entrance. At about 5.30, the first column of armed rebels entered the town. They passed by the Catholic compound. The UN soldiers were still there, outside their armoured vehicles. The rebels greeted them, before continuing on their route.

“A few minutes later, the first detonations of automatic rifles were heard. Meanwhile, the two UN armoured vehicles left the Catholic compound and moved towards the town. They seemed to be going back to their base, 3km away.

“The detonations and shootings continued through the day, until 6pm. For about eight hours, the rebels attacked and overran the town, without any reaction from the MINUSCA troops.”

On Sunday 24 September, the whole town was under rebel control, though MINUSCA said its troops had intervened and repelled the attack.

Reports say a total of 3,388 IDPs arrived in Bozoum during the three to four days that followed the attack.

Those who were able to go back to their former homes in Bocaranga said the rebels, believed to be the 3R (Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation), an Islamic Fulani group led by Abass Sidiki, and the MPC (Le Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique), led by Mohamed Bahar, looted and ransacked mainly the predominantly Christian districts of the town targeting specifically the commercial district, Catholic sector and the Bollara area, where most NGO offices were located. The attackers spared the Muslim districts who were said to sympathise with the militias.

Though MINUSCA eventually launched an offensive, on 7-8 October, to remove the rebels from Bocaranga, the IDPs in Bozoum were not impressed. “Why did the UN troops wait for more than two weeks to intervene?” they asked.

In August, the MINUSCA; Moroccan troops, were accused  of the same complacency following an attack in the eastern town of Gambo that left dozens dead, including ten Red Cross workers.

In Bangassou also Bishop, Juan José Aguirre Muños,  demanded the withdrawal of another Moroccan contingent following the indiscriminate killing of civilians while the UN peacekeepers did little or nothing to help.

Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia said when the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with both Christian and Muslim leaders, he promised to increase the Peace keepers by 900 troops when its mandate is renewed15 November. “I’m optimistic this will mark a turning point,” the Bishop said Guterres “clearly wants to help us find a way forward and out of this difficult and complex situation, which is being manipulated from so many angles.”

Agence France-Presse reported on 28 October that 13 of 16 prefectures in the country are still controlled by armed gangs, despite the presence of UN peacekeepers.

Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia asking for the empowering the cointry’s army so as to bolster the fight against the several militia in the country, argues that “A national army is the symbol of a country, and a country without one isn’t a country. We can’t go on relying on foreigners for our security,” said the bishop, who survived abduction by Seleka rebels in 2014. “While we understand the precondition is that our forces must be properly trained, it’s also crucial a commitment is now made to work toward a professional army.” He added.

 

Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos

Image Credits: CC/Google images/CAR refugee camps/Bishop Nestor Desire