Ban urges CAR leaders to avert genocide

2014-04-05 22:50
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. (Fabrice Coffrini, AFP)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. (Fabrice Coffrini, AFP)

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Bangui - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made an impassioned plea on Saturday to the leaders of the strife-torn Central African Republic to prevent a new genocide on the continent, 20 years after Rwanda.

Ban, in Bangui for a brief visit en route to Rwanda to commemorate the anniversary of its genocide, told parliamentarians they had a duty to prevent a recurrence of the atrocities that claimed at least 800 000 lives in 1994.

"It is your responsibility as leaders to ensure that there are no such anniversaries in this country," he said, warning that "ethno-religious cleansing" was already happening in the CAR.

"Do not repeat the mistakes of the past - heed the lessons. The fate of your country is in your hands."

Ban has called for a 12 000-strong UN peacekeeping force to be put in place in the former French colony, where thousands have been killed since sectarian violence broke out a year ago.

In his speech, he said Central Africa was now in a state of "anarchy", with lynchings, decapitations and sexual violence going unpunished.

"Ethno-religious cleansing is a reality. Most members of the Muslim minority have fled," he told the transitional parliament after meeting President Catherine Samba Panza.

"Muslims and Christians have been placed in mortal danger simply because of who they are or what they believe. The security of the state has been replaced by a state of anarchy."

The secretary general - who one UN diplomat said was "terrified by the prospect of a new Rwanda" - is trying to drum up international support for a major UN operation in Central Africa that would also include a civilian mission.

Ban said the international community had "failed the people of Rwanda" two decades ago, and now risked not doing enough for the people of the CAR.

He said he had heard "horror stories" from displaced people in Bangui, where food was scarce and living conditions "dire", and warned that the approaching rainy season could make things worse.

Former colonial power France, which has 2 000 troops in Central Africa, has pressed for a UN force to stem the deadly cycle of intercommunal violence that has laid waste to the country.

The UN chief used an EU-Africa summit this week to urge the international community to provide the extra funds and troops needed for the force, which would take over from some 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union soldiers already in place.

But some member states are resistant to the idea, largely due to the high cost of such an operation to a United Nations already struggling to raise the funds needed to provide basic assistance to the population.

Elections in February 2015

The force would be tasked with restoring order in the impoverished country - a huge undertaking, with about a quarter of its 4.6 million people displaced because of the conflict.

The civilian mission would be charged with building a functioning state in the CAR, which descended into chaos after a March 2013 coup by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.

The cost of the civilian operation, which would also help organise general elections due to be held by February 2015, has not been calculated.

Tens of thousands of Muslims have been forced from their homes in a vicious cycle of attacks and counter-attacks by the Seleka and the anti-balaka - mostly Christian militias set up to exact revenge on the former rebels.

French troops deployed in December to tackle the unrest, initially working to secure the capital before moving into the west of the vast country to control the major trade route to Cameroon.

But the French and African peacekeepers have struggled to prevent what Amnesty International has described as ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority in the majority-Christian country

French President Francois Hollande, who has spearheaded efforts to secure international support for the mission, said on Tuesday that the security situation in the country had "deteriorated" and that Muslims were being "directly targeted".

The European Union said this week it was sending up to 1 000 troops, its first major ground operation in six years, to bolster the French and African peacekeepers in the country.

The deployment had been scheduled for late March but was delayed by insufficient troop and aircraft commitments from the EU's 28 member states.

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