At least 23 militiamen were killed Saturday in fighting in Central African Republic between rival groups who signed a peace deal in February, said the UN mission in the country MINUSCA.
Fierce clashes between militias in recent months has raised concerns about whether the peace accord aimed at ending years of violence in CAR will hold.
The country’s president, Faustin-Archange Touadera, this month told AFP that the agreement was “quite strong” — but MINUSCA on Saturday said fighting had broken out in Birao, a city close to the Sudanese border.
The clashes were between the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC) and the Movement of Central African Freedom Fighters for Justice (MLCJ).
The rival militias also fought in the city earlier this month.
“The situation remains tense but there is no more fighting,” MINUSCA spokesman Vladimir Monteiro said.
“A MINUSCA Blue Helmet was also slightly wounded,” he added, without specifying the nationality.
A Zambian contingent of the multinational force is stationed in the area.
The peace accord with 14 militias vying for control of the country’s gold, diamond and other resources came after years of conflict following the ousting of Touadera’s predecessor Francois Bozize in 2013.
Thousands of people have been killed and about a fifth of the 4.5 million population has been displaced in the last six years.
Touadera has been struggling to prove he can convince the militias, which collectively control more than three-quarters of the territory, to lay down their arms.
Pope Francis has visited a mosque in the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, where he met with Muslims who have sought shelter after nearly three years of violence between Christians and Muslims.
The Pope told worshippers in a mosque that “Christians and Muslims were brothers and sisters”.
Most Muslims had left the capital but 15,000 are left in an area called pk5 surrounded by armed Christian militia.
A “New Chapter”
The pope will conclude his visit to Africa with a final mass in Bangui. This is the pontiff’s first visit to a conflict zone and the final stop on his landmark three-nation African tour.
On Sunday, the Pope called on fighting factions in CAR to lay down their weapons.
Celebrating Mass in Bangui, he said they should instead, arm themselves “with justice, love, mercy and authentic peace”.
CAR has been torn apart by violence between Muslim rebels and mainly Christian militias.
It is the pontiff’s first visit to a conflict zone and the final stop on his landmark three-nation African tour.
In an address at the presidential palace, he called for unity and urged them to avoid “the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession”.
Conflict blighted the CAR for decades but it was only in 2013 that the fighting took on a religious form.
On Network Africa this week, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, says out of the 67 billion dollars crude oil sales supposed to be remitted to the Federation Account, by the Nigerian national petroleum Corporation , NNPC, only 47 billion dollars has been reconciled between the NNPC and the CBN.
This leaves the NNPC with a figure different from the 10.8 billion dollars earlier quoted by the CBN, which it was reconciling.
Crisis In Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (C.A.R.) crisis also continues, as the C.A.R soldiers have lynched a man they accused of being a rebel. He was stabbed and beaten to death, with his body burnt in the capital, Bangui. The gory incident occurred not too long after the interim President, Catherine Samba-Panza, finished speaking at an Army ceremony.
Chemical Weapons Destruction
While Syria might not have met the deadline to surrender its chemical weapons, Libya certainly has, as the Libyan Foreign Minister, Mohammed Abdulazeez, told reporters that US, Canadian and German experts have helped destroy the chemical weapons.
We bring you the Libyan report, with words from the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, who visited the weapon site.
The programme also looks at what life has been like in South Sudan since the ceasefire.
We also stop by in South-Africa to bring you updates on the Harmony Gold accident in which rescue workers have recovered 8 bodies of the miners.
We looked at the beautiful side of Africa, despite the political tension and unrest in Egypt; the people have found an unusual way of relaxing and having fun. Cock fighting it is, and it has been extremely popular in Cairo in the 1940s and 50s.
Central African Republic’s Interim President, on Monday, January 13, warned vigilante groups that the time of pillaging the country was over.
Interim leader, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, sent hundreds more soldiers onto the streets with orders to shoot anyone disturbing the peace.
The nation has been gripped by months of inter-religious violence, which killed 1,000 people in December alone.
After a coup in March 2013, abuses by rebel Seleka forces led to the creation of Christian self-defence militias and killings that evoked memories of Rwanda’s genocide 20 years ago.
Nguendet became Interim President over the weekend after former interim leader, Michel Djotodia, who was swept into power by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels, succumbed to international pressure to resign on Friday, January 10.
Joy over Djotodia’s departure gave way to violence over the weekend, with sporadic attacks, particularly at night, on Muslim-owned shops and businesses.
“All of the armed elements, I am warning the anti-Balaka and Seleka that the holiday is over. To the forces of order, I order you to shoot to kill at all those disturbing the public order, so that peace can reign in this country. The break is finished,” Nguendet said in an address to the nation’s armed forces.
Nguendet added that the period of “anarchy” in the country was over.
“I have launched an operation, called “Bangui without gunfire.” There will be a rapid intervention operation put in place, under my command. In case of robbery, this rapid intervention team will be working 24 hours a day and the number will be given to the population. Whenever there is a robbery, or vandalism, in any neighbourhood, minutes later the perpetrators will be neutralised.”
The Red Cross said its workers collected 10 bodies from the streets over the weekend and it had treated some 60 wounded people at the Community Hospital in Bangui.
“The break is over. The robberies are over. The chaos is over. The Central African people must get back their honour to allow the country to live,” Nguendet said.
Former colonial power, France, which had sought to stay out of the latest crisis in a country where it has often intervened, dispatched hundreds of soldiers last month to bolster a beleaguered African peacekeeping force as the killings spiralled.
The National Transitional Council will start work on identifying a new leader on Tuesday, January 14.
Under the country’s transitional charter, Nguendet will lead the country until a new interim president is chosen by the council, within two weeks of Djotodia’s resignation.
The UN is to send 310 troops to the Central African Republic (CAR) bringing the number of UN troops in CAR to a total of 560.
The military personnel will protect United Nations political mission in the country.
About 250 military personnel were deployed to Bangui in the first phase of the programme.
In a letter to the 15-member Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the guard unit would, in a second phase, increase its strength to a battalion size unit of 560 military personnel, with its own enablers, in order to progressively deploy to locations outside Bangui where the United Nations has a presence.
The mineral-rich country slipped into chaos since northern Seleka rebels seized the capital, Bangui, and ousted President Francois Bozize in March.
UN officials and rights groups say both sides may have committed war crimes.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution this month urging the United Nations to consider establishing a full-fledged peacekeeping force and asking Ban for interim plans for a guard force to protect the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office, known as BINUCA.
“Given the urgency of the situation, as an interim measure the 250 troops could be temporarily redeployed from another UN peacekeeping operation.”
The guards would provide perimeter security and access control.
The UN Security Council is expected to approve the UN guard force on Friday, diplomats said.
France, which intervened this year to oust Islamist rebels from another of its former colonies, Mali, has been reluctant to get directly involved. It has urged African nations and the African Union to do their utmost to resolve the crisis among themselves.
But while the African Union plans to deploy a 3,600-member peacekeeping mission in the country – known as MISCA – incorporating a regional force of 1,100 soldiers already on the ground, it is unlikely to be operational before 2014.
Some Western diplomats say the situation in Central African Republic is too fragile to permit the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in the foreseeable future.
France has a small force in Bangui securing the airport and its local interests. French diplomatic sources have said Paris would be ready to provide logistical support and increase its troop numbers to between 700 and 750 if needed.
Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium.
Central African Republic’s new leader Michel Djotodia announced a caretaker government on Sunday in which he is defense minister, according to a statement issued by his spokesman.
The new government, which is due to hold elections in the mineral-rich former French colony within three years, will retain civilian opposition representative Nicolas Tiangaye as prime minister.
Djotodia toppled President Francois Bozize on March 24 after leading thousands of his Seleka rebel fighters into the riverside capital Bangui, triggering days of looting and drawing international condemnation.
The African Union suspended Central African Republic and imposed sanctions on Seleka leaders, including Djotodia, last week. France and the United States say the rebels should adhere to a power-sharing deal signed in Gabon’s capital Libreville in January that mapped out a transition to elections in 2016 in which Bozize was forbidden from running.
Djotodia has pledged to act in the spirit of the agreement and said on Friday he would step down in 2016. But Washington on Saturday said Tiangaye, named premier under the Libreville agreement, was now the only legal head of government.
Bozize seized power in a 2003 coup, but his failure to keep promises of power-sharing after winning disputed 2011 polls led to the offensive by five rebel groups known as Seleka, which means “alliance” in the Sango language.
Rebels in Central African Republic seized control of the riverside capital Bangui after fierce fighting on Sunday, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee and raising fears of instability in the mineral-rich heart of Africa.
At least nine South African soldiers were killed trying to prevent the rebels taking Bangui, a Reuters witness said, dealing a blow to Pretoria’s attempt to stabilize the chaotic Central African nation and assert its influence in the region.
The Seleka rebel coalition resumed hostilities this week in the former French colony and quickly swept south towards Bangui with the aim of toppling Bozize, whom it accused of breaking a January peace deal to integrate its fighters into the army.
“We have taken the presidential palace,” Eric Massi, a Seleka spokesman, told Reuters by telephone from Paris.
Senior government officials confirmed the rebels had captured the city of more than 600,000 people, which lies on the banks of the Oubangi river bordering Democratic Republic of Congo. Residents reported widespread looting of homes and businesses.
“The looting is bad. Both the population and Seleka are involved,” said one senior U.N. official in Bangui. “We are not sure who is in charge. I don’t think it is clear yet. It is too early in the game.”
The violence is the latest in a series of rebel incursions, clashes and coups that have plagued the landlocked nation – which has rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium – since its independence from France in 1960.
The whereabouts of Bozize – who seized power in a 2003 coup backed by neighboring Chad – was uncertain. A presidential advisor said he had crossed the river into Congo on Sunday morning as rebel forces headed for the presidential palace.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed Bozize had fled Bangui, but gave no details of his whereabouts. He appealed to France’s 1,200 citizens in the country to remain calm and stay in their homes.
Congo’s government asked the U.N. refugee agency to help move 25 members of Bozize’s family out of the border town of Zongo. Information Minister Lambert Mende said the ousted president was not among them: “Bozize is not in Democratic Republic of Congo.”
CAR has extensive and unprotected borders and the rebel takeover may add to instability in the turbulent region. It was one of several countries where U.S. special forces were helping local soldiers hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that has rampaged across Central Africa killing thousands.
Transition to elections
As the loose coalition of rebels – some of them former rivals – tightened their grip on Bangui, it was unclear who would replace Bozize or whether the power-sharing government of Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye would remain in place.
The rebels received several key ministerial portfolios in the government under January’s peace deal but accused Bozize of unfairly keeping important posts for his loyalists.
Nelson Ndjadder, a spokesman representing Seleka’s CPSK faction, said the rebels would begin a transition process towards elections which would include all political groups.
“This situation must not lead to any vengeance, pillaging or score-settling which we would quickly condemn and bring those responsible to justice,” Ndjadder said in a statement.
A Reuters witness, however, saw youths looting houses -including the residence of Bozize’s son, Francis – in the northern part of the city.
Rebel fighters directed looters towards the houses of army officers but fired their rifles in the air to protect the homes of ordinary citizens, the witness said.
Seleka’s forces had fought their way to the northern suburbs of the riverside capital late on Saturday before an overnight lull in the fighting. Residents said heavy weapons fire erupted across Bangui around 8 a.m. (3.00 a.m. ET).
Seleka’s Massi said the rebels had broken through a line of South African soldiers during their push into the city. Around 400 South African troops were deployed in the country as military trainers.
“I saw the bodies of six South African soldiers. They had all been shot,” a Reuters witness said. Later, he saw three more bodies in burned-out South African military vehicles.
Regional peacekeeping sources said the South Africans had fought alongside the Central African Republic’s army on Saturday to prevent rebels entering the capital.
South African army spokesman Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga told private South African news channel eENCA their forces had defended themselves when they came under attack.
A source with the United Nations in Bangui said South African troops were preparing to leave the country.
“They took substantial losses and have asked for French support to load their troops and take off,” said the source.
Several peacekeepers from the Central African regional force, including three Chadians, were also killed on Saturday, when a helicopter operated by Bozize’s forces attacked them, Chad’s presidency said in a statement.
Bozize seized power in 2003 with Chad’s support and Chadian forces have since intervened on several occasions to fend off attempts to depose him. France, which already had 250 soldiers in Central African Republic, has sent in another company of 150 troops to secure Bangui’s international airport, a diplomat said on Saturday. Paris said on Sunday it had no plans to deploy more troops.
Seleka fought its way to the gates of the capital late last year after accusing Bozize of violating an earlier peace deal to give its fighters cash and jobs in exchange for laying down their arms.