UN chief welcomes peace progress in Central African Republic

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is welcoming slow but steady progress toward implementing a peace agreement signed a year ago by Central African Republic’s government and rebel groups, but he is “seriously concerned” about continuing hostilities and violence.

The U.N. chief said in a report to the U.N. Security Council that “peace and stability in the Central African Republic remain fragile” and “the period ahead will indeed be challenging.”

The international community and the impoverished country’s people “can and must” continue to move toward peace, Guterres said.

Mineral-rich Central African Republic has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back, resulting in the killing of thousands and the displacement of thousands.

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The country saw a period of relative peace in late 2015 and 2016, but violence intensified and spread afterward.

In February 2019, the government signed a peace agreement with 14 armed groups, and Guterres said “violence has decreased overall” since then.

But he said intermittent serious incidents of violence and human rights violations have continued.

He noted a “persistent lack of good faith among the signatories,” including the three main ex-Seleka armed groups and anti-Balaka groups. He also pointed to “the nominal commitment” to the peace agreement, especially by government forces, which have contributed to delays in the deal’s implementation.

Guterres also cited the national government’s failure to meet the Jan. 31 deadline to conclude the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation of rebel groups, adding that some armed groups continue to conduct illegal activities.

“The risk of fueling yet another cycle of conflict is too high and the implications too great for the people, the country and the region,” Guterres said. “The population has already borne the brunt of the conflict and the implications of a delayed peace.”

The U.N. envoy for Central African Republic, Mankeur Ndiaye, told the Security Council on Thursday that this year is an important “turning point” for the country, which is to hold elections for a new government in December.

Since the peace agreement was signed, Ndiaye said, violence has not only decreased significantly but the authority of the state has been “progressively and continuously extended.” Armed forces have been deployed to new areas and there has been progress in combating impunity and promoting justice, he said.

Ndiaye noted the Feb. 7 sentencing of 28 members of the anti-Balaka militia for the murder of civilians and 10 U.N. peacekeepers in 2017 in Bangassou and other communities in the country’s southeast.

He said new laws are awaited, especially on establishing a Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. Victims want their voices to be heard and to receive “reparations for harm,” he said.

“The peace agreement is not yet peace,” Ndiaye stressed. “It is a step forward, a long process.”

Key challenges include persistent violations by some armed groups that have collected illegal taxes and expanded their areas of operation and clashes between armed groups fighting over territory and resources, he said.

Ndiaye urged the Security Council to examine “robust measures,” which usually means sanctions, against all those who hamper implementation of the peace agreement.

In January, two former presidents returned to Central African Republic — Francois Bozize, who came to power in a coup and ruled for a decade, and Michel Djotodia, the Seleka rebel leader who overthrew him in 2013.

“Both of them have affirmed and reaffirmed their desire to contribute to the peace and stability of the country and to contribute to peaceful elections — and this is something we can welcome,” Ndiaye said.

He commended current President Faustin-Archange Touadera for his openness in consulting the ex-presidents “in order to guarantee a peaceful political environment.”

Ndiaye said it’s crucial that elections are inclusive, stressing that refugees must be allowed to vote and there must be women candidates.

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