On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to authorize the deployment of nearly 12,000 peacekeepers to the Central African Republic in an effort to halt the chaotic violence that has torn apart the country.
The latest acronym to take over the task of bringing law and order back to the CAR is MINUSCA: the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. The force will include 10,000 troops and 1,800 police officers, a major uptick from the 2,000 French soldiers and 6,000 African Union troops currently in the country struggling to curtail the bloodshed.
“I think it’s a very important step but there’s a massive amount of work to be done,” Evan Cinq-Mars, a research analyst with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, told VICE News. “There are very high hopes and expectations on the ground for the peacekeeping operation.”
The UN approved a resolution on Thursday authorizing the deployment of close to 12,000 peacekeepers to the war-torn Central African Republic.
Unfortunately, the UN force will probably not arrive until mid-September due to logistical reasons. This means that the African Union and French troops currently in the country will be left to handle peacekeeping tasks, something they haven’t exactly done a great job of. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, has described them as “overwhelmed.”
The current conflict really took shape in March of 2013, when a mostly Muslim rebel coalition called the Seleka overthrew a corrupt, ineffectual government. The Seleka continued to terrorize the region, blazing a well-documented trail of destruction and atrocities.
Mostly Christian self-defense groups called the anti-balaka then came together, and the fighting turned increasingly sectarian. The worst fighting broke out in December, when nearly 1,000 people were killed in Bangui during clashes between the Seleka and the anti-balaka. France and the African Union, which already had a small troop presence in the country, quickly dispatched more soldiers to curtail the violence.
French forces immediately began disarming the Seleka, many of whom fled north and east to regroup. With the Seleka out of the picture, the anti-balaka began to carry out revenge attacks against Muslims, which have continued with frightening intensity.
In the past few days, two French soldiers were injured in a grenade attack and at least 30 people were killed by anti-balaka and Seleka clashes in the centrally located town of Dekoa. The UN has stated that ethnic cleansing has decimated the Muslim population in the north and west of the country. In Bangui alone, over 80 percent of the Muslim population has fled.
Adding to the tenuous situation on the ground right now, the government of Chad announced last week that it will be withdrawing it’s troop contingency after recently facing harsh criticism from the international community. On March 29, Chadian soldiers in the African Union peacekeeping force killed more than 30 people and injured 300 more when they attacked a market. A UN investigator said that the shooting occurred when the Chadian peacekeepers “fired indiscriminately” “without provocation,” Foreign Policy reports. (They’ve made a habit of this, it seems, as VICE News reporters in CAR spent a fretful night running from Chadian soldiers who were firing indiscriminately into civilian neighborhoods.)
Picking up the slack, the European Union has been authorized to send a force of 1,000 troops to replace the Chadian troops, and the first 55 EU troops arrived on Wednesday.
While the UN force will surely be a stabilizing factor, many feel that more is needed immediately. Anarchic violence has plagued the CAR for over a year, with thousands killed and nearly a million displaced. Much of the population is in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
Cinq-Mars, who recently returned from a fact-finding mission in Bangui, said that clashes there are regularly occurring. The situation is rapidly deteriorating in the less accessible (and policed) northern and western regions, with many massacres feared.
“Gunfire and explosions were a nightly thing,” said Cinq-Mars. “The UN is getting into a situation that’s volatile and unpredictable, and it’s become increasingly hard for the international peacekeepers to control.”
More worrying, Cinq-Mars suggested that the anti-balaka have begun to attack the foreign troops.
“I think there’s an indication that the anti-balaka are trying to target international peacekeepers,” he said, “particularly those that are in areas where they are protecting Muslim populations.”
Aid groups have been fiercely critical of what they regard as a lackluster response from the international community. Doctors Without Borders released a statement last week describing it as “inadequate, disheartening.”
Refugees International also released a statement, shortly after the UN vote, welcoming the approval but also warning that immediate action is necessary. Mark Yarnell, a senior advocate with Refugees International who was in CAR in March, cautioned that “this mission will not address the atrocities, displacement and dire humanitarian needs on the ground today.”
Cinq-Mars noted that the remaining Muslims in Bangui are constantly under the threat, and that even venturing a few feet out of a safe zone could lead to death.
“Six months is a long time, and a lot can happen in that time in the CAR — let alone a few hours,” he said.
Photos by Robert King