Central African Republic is de facto partitioned with Christian militias in the west of the impoverished, landlocked country pillaging diamonds and mainly Muslim Seleka rebels in the east controlling gold mines, U.N. experts said on Friday.
Violence between the Muslim and Christian communities killed at least 2,400 civilians between December and April, the panel said, but they acknowledged the toll was likely higher due to underreporting.
Seleka rebels seized power more than a year ago, committing abuses on the majority Christian population that triggered waves of deadly revenge attacks by the anti-balaka Christian fighters, forcing a million people to flee their homes.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council released on Friday, the experts who monitor sanctions violations said they believe “that armed groups, whether associated with anti-balaka or the former Seleka, have been manipulated and incited by political spoilers to commit acts of violence against civilians and international forces with the aim of strengthening those leaders’ influence and destabilizing the transition process or promoting the partition of the country.”
“The country is de facto partitioned into two … with the predominant presence of so-called anti-balaka militias in the west and of the new Seleka in the east,” the experts said.
The violence in Central African Republic has continued despite the presence of 2,000 French troops and some 6,000 African Union forces. In April, the Security Council authorized a U.N. peacekeeping force of up to 10,000 troops and 1,800 police, which is due to assume authority in September.
“Armed groups have been involved in the illicit trade and exploitation of natural resources, namely gold and diamonds,” the experts’ report said.
“In the west of the Central African Republic, anti-balaka members are digging for and trading in diamonds in remote villages,” it said. “In the east, Seleka forces retain a tight grip on artisanal gold mines.”
In December, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Central African Republic and then in May, it imposed sanctions on the country’s former President François Bozizé and two other men linked to the country’s conflict.
“Apart from illicit imports of hunting ammunition, the panel has not documented any major transfer of weapons, ammunition or military equipment since the imposition of the arms embargo,” the report said.
Armed groups were mainly using small arms that were circulating in the country before the crisis or obtained from government stockpiles following the collapse of the national security forces, the experts said.