- Title: Sangaris mission in CAR officially ends this month
- Date: 28th October 2016
- Summary: BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (FILE) (REUTERS) PEOPLE RUNNING AND BURNING TIRES
- Embargoed: 12th November 2016 13:49
- Keywords: Sangaris MINUSCAS Seleka Anti Balaka Chrstian Muslim violence UN
- Location: BANGUI, BOSSANGOA, AND KAGA BANDORO, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC AND PARIS, FRANCE
- City: BANGUI, BOSSANGOA, AND KAGA BANDORO, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC AND PARIS, FRANCE
- Country: Central African Republic
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace
- Reuters ID: LVA00155X5WEF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES
The Central African Republic descended into bloody chaos when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in 2013, toppling president Francois Bozize.
Abuses by Seleka - "Alliance" in the country's most widely spoken language, Sango - fueled the rise of Christian militias, the "anti-Balaka", which means anti-machete, who launched reprisals against Muslim civilians.
In the capital Bangui hundreds of people were killed in one week in December when fighters of both sides went door-to-door murdering civilians. Some victims were lynched or stoned to death.
Also in December, 53 bodies were brought to the mosque in the capital Bangui's PK5 district. Most victims appeared to have been clubbed or hacked to death.
The previous month, 300 kilometres north of the capital in Bossangoa, thousands of Christians sought shelter at a cathedral fleeing Seleka attacks.
African peacekeepers protecting civilians in their base in Bossangoa also came under heavy fire.
Thousands of people died in the sectarian violence and nearly one in five of the 5 million Central Africans were displaced.
After securing United Nations backing, France sent a 1,200-strong military force, the Sangaris to the Central African Republic (CAR) to support the regional African soldiers unable to contain the violence.
France also imposed an arms embargo on the country and the Security Council asked the United Nations to prepare for a peacekeeping mission.
The FACAS, Central African Armed Forces, were accused of serious crimes during the fighting as they joined in the defence of either side.
Three years on, French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian, who had himself visited CAR in 2013, announced the official end of the Sangaris mission which he said had been a success.
"I am very pleased to note that we are closing the Sangaris operation. We are closing the operation because it has been a success," Le Drian told the National Assembly on October 19.
Sangaris handed over control to the United Nations forces, the MINUSCA, and the African Union. Some 300 French soldiers will remain in CAR.
But many fear that without the strength and tactical expertise of the Sangaris, MINUSCA will fail to protect civilians.
Speaking in Bangui on Thursday (October 27) Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch said it was probably too early for Sangaris to leave CAR as MINUSCA was not as fast and tactically strong as Sangaris who also had to benefit of powerful air support.
"They (Sangaris) deploy fast, they have their own chains of hierarchy which they have to obey, so they're not in the UN system of the chains of hierarchy, and they have helicopters and armour that they can get out very quickly, and the United Nations is going to have to fill that void. They're going to have to do it two ways. Number one, they're going to have to deploy themselves much quicker and more effectively, and number two, they're going to have to work with national authorities. So this is the FACA (Central African Armed Forces), the national army, the police, and the gendarmes. They're going to have to work much more effectively with those national state security services to deploy and react much quicker when violence occurs," Mudge said.
Le Drian himself admitted to the National Assembly that there was a fragile calm in CAR.
In 2013 thousands of people fleeing the violence massed in M'Poko airport, in Bangui. Many of them were Muslims trying to fly to neighbouring Chad. Thousands of others simply stayed in the shadow of the French forces who had set up a military base there.
Today, in 2016, 29,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are still in M'Poko, according to UNHCR, living 50 metres from the runway. Their figures showed a total of 384,314 IDPs in CAR.
M'Poko is where allegations of sexual abuse by the French forces first arose. Four French soldiers are under investigation but they have yet to be charged. Last year UN-commissioned study said the United Nations' failure to respond to allegations that the French peacekeepers sexually abused children in Central African Republic amounted to "gross institutional failure" and allowed assaults to continue.
The study found that children as young as nine were encouraged to take part in oral sex in exchange for food or money in the middle of a war zone. The alleged perpetrators were mainly French soldiers. Initial complaints in early 2014, the report said, were "passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple UN offices, with no one willing to take responsibility".
Even when the French government became aware of the allegations and sought the cooperation of UN staff, its requests were met with resistance and "became bogged down in formalities" the report said.
The 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force there has also been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse since its deployment in April 2014.
Mudge says this has caused a major rift between the people of CAR and the UN troops and there is a growing movement by civil society groups to remove them. But he says mere sending the troops home and making sure they are not resent is not the end of the problem.
"Unless those countries who send troops to the Central African Republic hold those troops accountable for the crimes that they've committed, you're going to continue to see a deterioration in faith in the international missions that are currently in place, whether they'd be European Union or United Nations," said Mudge.
A protest against MINUSCA last Monday (October 24) exploded into violence. Four people were killed and 14 injured, including 5 Blue Helmets (UN soldiers).
People at the protest said they were angry about the UN's failure to protect civilians and demanded their own forces be re-armed. Days earlier 30 people were killed and 57 wounded by Seleka militia in Kaga Bandoro in the north of the country. Avenging what they said was the recent murder of four young Muslims in the remote town of dirt roads and thatched mud huts, armed Seleka stabbed and hacked to death refugees who had fled previous violence in the region and set fire to buildings. MINUSCA said they had repelled the attacking Seleka and killed 12 of them.
President Faustin Archange Touadera is on a path of reconciliation to try and bring stability to the troubled country.
But Mudge says this won't happen until the perpetrators of the violence continue to control large parts of the country.
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