UN says western CAR “cleansed” of Muslims


Most Muslims have been driven out of the western half of conflict-torn Central African Republic (CAR), where thousands of civilians risk of being killed “right before our eyes” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.

The bleak warning came as the country’s foreign minister pleaded with the UN Security Council to urgently approve a UN peacekeeping force to stop the killing.

Widespread violence in the former French colony has claimed thousands of lives since Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim northern rebels, seized power a year ago. Attacks intensified in December when “anti-Balaka” militias drawn from the majority Christian population stepped up reprisals on Muslims.
“Since early December we have effectively witnessed a ‘cleansing’ of the majority of the Muslim population in western CAR,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told a meeting of the 15-nation Security Council on the crisis in the impoverished and landlocked country.
“Tens of thousands of Muslims have left the country, the second refugee outflow of the current crisis, and most of those remaining are under permanent threat,” he said.

The council is considering a UN proposal for a nearly 12 000-strong peacekeeping force to stop the country from sliding toward what a top UN rights official called “ethnic-religious cleansing”. If approved, the UN force would likely not be operational before late summer.
“Just last week, there were about 15 000 people trapped in 18 locations in western CAR, surrounded by anti-Balaka elements and at very high risk of attack,” Guterres said.
“International forces are present in some of these sites, but if more security is not made available immediately, many of these civilians risk being killed right before our eyes.”

Guterres said that until last year CAR “was largely a stranger to religious conflict”. But the worsening bloodshed has enabled armed groups to use religion as a pretext for violence.
“The demon of religious cleansing must be stopped – now,” he said. Guterres’ spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said western CAR was roughly half the country.
“Surge” of peacekeepers needed

CAR Foreign Minister Toussaint Kongo-Doudou told the council his country’s survival depended on the urgent deployment of a UN force. UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous also spoke about the dire need for UN troops.
“The state has virtually no capacity to manage the massive array of threats it is facing. There is no national army and the remnants of the police and gendarmerie lack the basic equipment and means to exercise their duties, while state administration is largely absent.”

The European Union is already deploying 1 000 soldiers to join 6 000 African and 2 000 French troops. Those forces have so far not been able to halt the killings and restore stability.
“The violence has led to the total breakdown of the state, locally and nationally,” UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said.

Ladsous said he hoped to include as many of the African contingents as possible in a future UN force. UN officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that few of the African contingents are trained and equipped to UN standards.

Ladsous said the initial phase of a peacekeeping operation would have to focus on helping to establish security.
“This will require an initial surge of military personnel and corresponding military enablers. Alongside this initial military surge, essential civilian capacities will be deployed, phased in gradually as the situation stabilises,” he said.

Ladsous said it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The force will need to be approved by the Security Council. Diplomats said France will submit a draft resolution within the next few weeks to authorise a peacekeeping force in line with UN recommendations.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud said Paris supports Ladsous’ call for some 10 000 troops and 1 820 police but he predicted a “difficult negotiation” on the resolution. Diplomats say the United States and Britain are especially concerned about costs due to national requirements for legislative approval.