UN envoy wants transparency over CAR arms imports


A top UN envoy called on Thursday for transparency on arms flowing into the Central African Republic from Russia, China or the United States, urging diplomatic "coherence" as Moscow seeks a larger role in the war-torn sub-Saharan country.

In an interview with AFP, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the UN special representative for the Central African Republic, whose term expires at the end of the year, said he felt "a measured, but definite hope" for the country, even as armed groups who covet its natural wealth still clash on the ground.

President Faustin-Archange Touadera controls only a fraction of CAR, most of it overrun by militants who claim to protect either the Christian or Muslim communities.

Touadera, addressing the annual UN General Assembly, urged a complete lifting of the arms embargo on the country.

Onanga-Anyanga said that the need for weapons was "undeniable" as the government builds its own armed forces to the tune of 1,300 new troops a year through 2023.

Russia has already received an exemption. "China, but also the United States, have proposed new quantities of weapons," Onanga-Anyanga said. "It's for a good reason."

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European trainers of Central African troops have themselves backed the increased flow of weapons, he said.

"It's dangerous to have trained men loafing around all day. If they aren't under supervision and put to use, they risk being drawn back to the demons of the past and returning to predation," Onanga-Anyanga said.

He also acknowledged the "need for the clearest transparency." The United Nations has just verified, with the defense ministry and Russia, weapons deliveries by Russia.

He said that the head of the UN sanctions committee would travel on October 2 to Bangui to "examine the needs and make sure that these transactions are in line with the positions of the Security Council."

Risking diplomatic 'cacophony'

Thousands of people have died, 700 000 have been internally displaced and another 570,000 have fled abroad in fighting since 2013, when majority-Muslim militias toppled longtime leader Francois Bozize, a Christian.

Russia, in addition to sending weapons, has proposed mediating with CAR rebel groups in a sign of Moscow's growing post-Cold War ambitions in Africa.

Former colonial ruler France has rejected the Russian initiative, saying that there was "no alternative" to the process led by the African Union.

"There must absolutely be coordination among partners," the envoy said of the political mediation.

"For it to be constructive, everyone needs to have the same vision and approach," he said.

"Solitary, non-coordinated moves could create a real cacophony."

He supported Russia's decision to join as an observer in the African Union mediation mission along with France and the United States.

The UN stabilisation force in Central Africa has 12 000 troops and 2 000 police officers.

Nearly a year ago, the UN Security Council authorised boosting the number by 900 military personnel, although Onanga-Anyanga admitted that the level had not yet been reached.

He said that troops from Rwanda and Nepal had arrived but did not yet have equipment in place.

Since its establishment in 2014, the UN peacekeeping force known by its French acronym Minusca has witnessed the deaths of 70 soldiers.

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