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More international involvement in CAR won’t stop bloodshed

Published time: April 17, 2014 15:15
A French peacekeeping soldier patrols a street of the capital Bangui, CAR January 18, 2014 (Reuters / Siegfried Modola)

Fresh forces, particularly EU and UN troops, are to be sent to stop the ongoing sectarian violence in the Central African Republic, although the problems they are being sent to solve are too deep-rooted to hope for any significant improvements.

On April 14, the Council of the European Union issued a statement outlining the main conclusions on the situation in the Central African Republic, as well as on the aims and objectives of the EU mission in CAR (EUFOR RCA).

The decision to launch “the EU military operation to a secure environment in the Central African Republic” was taken on April 1 after authorization from the UN Security Council. Initially the mission was approved in January, with troops supposed to start deploying by the end of February. However, the EU mission has been held up a little bit by the failure of European governments to provide soldiers and equipment.

The purpose of the EUFOR RCA is “to provide temporary support in achieving a safe and secure environment in the Bangui area, with a view to handing over to a UN peacekeeping operation or to African partners.”

"The launch of this operation demonstrates the EU's determination to take full part in international efforts to restore stability and security in Bangui and right across the Central African Republic," said Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, on April 1.

"It is vital that there is a return to public order as soon as possible, so that the political transition process can be put back on track," she added.

People ride on a motorcycle as they pass past a military vehicle in Wouango district January 9, 2014 (Reuters / Emmanuel Braun)

According to the official statement of the Council of the EU, the force will comprise up to 1,000 troops led by Major-General Philippe Pontiès (France) as EU Operation Commander. The EU soldiers will join 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops that have failed to stop a conflict that erupted after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in March 2013 and seized power in the predominantly Christian state. The operation’s headquarters are to be located in Larissa, Greece, while the force HQ and the troops in CAR will be based in the capital, Bangui, and at the Bangui airport. The costs of the operation are estimated at 25.9 million euro for the preparatory phase, with a mandate of up to six months starting from the point of reaching full operational capability.

Germany, Italy, France, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom will take part in the EU military operation, along with Georgia, which is not an EU-member. Estonia, France, Georgia, Poland and Spain are expected to send their soldiers, while Germany is promising air transport and Britain - engineering and logistical help.

In an April-14 statement, the Council of the EU supported the EUFOR RCA military mission and calls on the international community to mobilize its forces in order to improve the situation on the ground in CAR. The EU mission is working hand in hand with Sangaris, the French mission, and a mission bythe African Union, MISCA.

The EU is considering providing MISCA with an additional 75 million euro for facilitation of the peace process in CAR. It is also demanding that the transitional government of CAR, with Catherine Samba-Panza as its head, should do its best to guarantee political dialogue and reconciliation till elections that are held in February 2015.

One of the few achievements of the international involvement in Central African affairs relates to the signing of the final communiqué of the Interfaith Conference on Peace and Reconciliation on April 8, which is a small development on the way to a resolution of the crisis. However, this is really just a drop in the ocean.

A French peacekeeping soldier patrols a street of the capital Bangui January 18, 2014 (Reuters / Siegfried Modola)

The existing tensions in CAR have resulted not only in unprecedented violence but also in a mass exodus of people to neighboring states like Chad, Congo and Cameroon. In fact, all of those countries cannot be called a “safe place” themselves because of institutional mismanagement, weak governments and high security threats. Amnesty International, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) have sounded the alarm due to the numerous cases of executions, torture, looting and other atrocities that are perpetrated against civilians on a daily basis. Moreover, all the signs of ethnic cleansing are in place, which is a grim reminder of the Rwanda genocide.
“The Central African Republic is gripped by a human rights and humanitarian crisis of historic proportions. By failing to respond more robustly and urgently, the international community has shown a callous disregard for the country’s embattled civilians, abandoning them in their moment of need,” said Christian Mukosa, Central Africa researcher at Amnesty International.

On April 10, a couple of days after the first 55 EU soldiers arrived in the country, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to send 12,000 UN peacekeepers to CAR. The UN peacekeeping mission is scheduled to take over on September 15, replacing the EUFOR RCA forces.

Unfortunately, more international forces on the ground won’t do the CAR people any good. The very fact that different peacekeeping missions are operating on the ground is already a challenge itself. France, once a great power still suffering from a “grandeur” complex is meddling in the affairs of all its former colonies, with Mali and CAR being chief examples. Chad has ties with the Seleka group that overthrew the CAR government. With self-interests above all, any actions taken by those parties are doomed. Logically, a neutral actor in the region is needed to resolve the conflict, which simply doesn’t exist.

There are also lots of incidents of alleged atrocities committed by peacekeeping soldiers on civilians. For example, on March 29 Chadian soldiers from MISCA troops opened fire on civilians which resulted in the death of dozens of people. Amnesty International called on the African Union to launch an investigation into any allegations MISCA troops were involved in human rights violations, which happen quite often.

People sit next to a French flag in the village of Boda on April 7, 2014 (AFP Photo / Miguel Medina)

Indeed, another cause for concern is connected to the real purposes of the EU that belie the pleasant sounding words of EU officials. Europe has always called the African continent the zone of its “privileged interests,” which is in fact about African resources and geostrategic importance and not people. The EU currently allows African countries free access to European markets without demanding anything in return. However, the African nations will lose that free access in October 2014 if they don’t sign a deal with the EU giving Europe a certain amount of free access to African markets, which would hinder the national economies of African states. As for CAR, it is extremely rich in resources, especially in gold, diamonds, oil and timber. Quite an attractive offer for sure.

Besides, if we turn to history, it’s clear that deep religious and ethnic conflicts are rarely resolved by military means, unless one side is completely exterminated through state cleavage, deportation or cleansing. Therefore, either the African Union, France, the EU and the UN will try to separate CAR between Muslims and Christians, which basically means the creation of two states instead of one, or they’ll have to eliminate the militia who are fueling the bloodshed, which is problematic since both sides are guilty of that. In other words, the international community can’t simply kill everyone in CAR who has a gun in their hands. Deportation seems also impossible – is there any place to deport those people anyway?

Finally, actions both taken and planned are too late and too limited. Remember Rwanda, where the international forces were too scarce, and, prior to the 1994 genocide, the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) commander General Romeo Dallaire pleaded to the UN Security Council for reinforcements and logistical support but his plea was rejected.

Nowadays, in CAR, the escalation of the internal conflict has already reached its limits, while increasing the number of foreign soldiers doesn’t guarantee efficiency of operation and even carries additional threats. For sure, without any interference at all, the situation in CAR could have been even worse: the very existence of CAR as a state could have been under question, which would have led to further destabilization of the region (it would become a safe haven for militia from Chad, Sudan, Congo and Uganda in the heart of the African continent). The most rational solution could be increasing the involvement of the African Union backed by the UN with no French or EU missions on the ground playing their geopolitical chess game. But in reality the game continues while, sadly, political stalemate and violence are likely to accompany its progress.

Irina Sukhoparova, RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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