Last Monday, in a ceremony at Bangui airport, about 1,800 additional peacekeepers and police joined a mission under U.N. control in the battle-torn Central African Republic CAR), along with the previous contingent of 4,800 African troops and 1,000 international police. The new reinforcements have come from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Morocco and Bangladesh, joining others from countries in Central Africa.
Yet as the extent of the violence continues to spread, many of those following the crisis are increasingly critical of the delayed and insufficient response of the U.N. takeover of peacekeeping operations. While the new troops are certainly welcome, Human Rights Watch has urged the U.N. member countries to ensure the full deployment of peacekeepers — the newly combined force is still only about two-thirds of what was authorized by the U.N. Security Council in April. Back then, the U.N. approved a force of up to 10,000 troops, 1,800 police and 20 corrections officers, known as MINUSCA, to take over authority on Sept. 15 from the African Union’s 5,800-strong MISCA force, which was deployed in December.
Both human rights groups and the security council are calling for the full and speedy deployment of the nearly 12,000-strong force, which diplomats now say won’t take place until early 2015. For its part, the U.N. says it has “worked tirelessly” since the April resolution was passed to solicit contributions from member states for equipment and helicopters and to mobilize the new force.
There certainly is no more time to waste — the violence has already resulted in at least 5,204 people having been killed since the eruption of sectarian violence last December, along with the displacement of nearly a quarter of the country’s population of 4.6 million. The population of the country is estimated as 81 percent Christian (52 percent Protestant and 29 percent Catholic), while Muslims roughly account for around 15 percent of the population.
The crisis has touched a deeply impoverished Central Africa since the mainly Muslim rebels of the Séléka alliance seized power from Francois Bozize in a March 2013 coup led by Michael Djotodia. Following the coup, some splinter groups of Séléka rebels embarked on a campaign of killing, raping and looting. Anti-Balaka militia groups, mainly Christian, then formed to protect civilians, and began counterattacks against Muslims.
The new U.N. mission urgently needs to accelerate the full deployment of its troops into eastern and central areas to protect citizens and support the immediate implementation by all signatories of the July 23 cease-fire agreement. There also needs to be a bottom-up approach to reconciliation by the transitional government, addressing the underlying causes of the conflict, which are largely economic, and include the voices of civil society — women, traditional leaders, religious figures, youth, and even armed groups. Including the voices of armed groups will be particularly challenging until those responsible for the bloodshed are weeded out, and many of the groups lack a central command. Some groups will try to strengthen their positions in advance of talks, others will splinter off and refuse to negotiate. Unfortunately, without a strong, disciplined military in CAR, and with a smaller contingent of international peacekeepers on the ground than required, the innocent victims of this resource grab may have to continue to suffer well after the new deployment.