Central African Republic Needs Aid Not Weapons

With schools and hospitals looted by gunmen, churches and mosques are a target for mass shootings.
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    Rebels in a camp in the north-eastern Central African Republic in this June 15, 2007 photo. (Photo/hdptcar via Flcikr)

    Rebels in a camp in the north-eastern Central African Republic in this June 15, 2007 photo. (Photo/hdptcar via Flcikr)

    Women raped, townships burnt to the ground, children killed or taken to be trained as child soldiers, the Central African Republic is rapidly descending into a lawless state with acts of genocide and human atrocities committed daily. Yet despite all the killings, the international community has done little to help.

     The Central African Republic is one of the poorest African nations with a population of 4.6 million, it’s become unstable over the decades due the spill over rebel warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighboring nations

     Six months ago rebels toppled the country’s authoritarian president François Bozizé, leaving large parts of the countryside and even parts of the capital city in a state of lawlessness and anarchy. Michel Djodita, the self-proclaimed new president, has lost control over Seleka, the rebel movement that brought him to power. Now Seleka militia are locked into a bloody battle with forces loyal to Bozizé’s overthrown government.  The violence of both militias is spilling over into communities where now religious differences between Muslims and Christians are used as another justification to kill.

     The country has sunk into a state of near-anarchy, with schools and hospitals looted by gunmen, and churches and mosques becoming targets for mass shootings.

     Adama Dieng the U.N.’s special adviser on the prevention of genocide, warned the international community of the developing crisis at this month’s U. N. Security Council. “We are seeing armed groups killing people under guise of their religion, and my feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other.

     “If we don’t act now and decisively, I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring in the Central African Republic,” Dieng advised.

     Half the population of the Central African Republic is made up of Christians, 15 percent Muslims and the rest of population hold indigenous beliefs. Both militias are using religion to further their cause by the killing of all opposition. The Seleka rebels are mainly from the Muslim northeast, while the Bozizé militia relies on support from Christian parts of the population from the northwest and south. But it would too simple to look at this chaos and blame religious fanaticism, the troubles go further.

     Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have reported systematic abuses by the various armed factions against civilians and enemy combatants. And Al Jazeera has found evidence of massacres targeting people as young as two weeks old.

     The capital of Bangui is rapidly becoming a haven for looting and killings, but this terror is spreading into the country’s vast rural and jungle areas, particularly in the north, where the Seleka uprising began.

    In the north, roads are impassable due to banditry. Kaga-Bandoro, 300km north of the capital, is a treacherous area to travel. A report from Amnesty and other human rights organizations show rebel evidence of human rights abuses where Seleka rebels have repeatedly mass-raped the region’s women.

     Women have been killed for refusing to have sex or not surrendering their food. While men are summarily executed, tortured or have simply disappeared. Most worrying is the report about Seleka treatment of children, where they’re recruited to armed gangs. With rebel attacks becoming more numerous and more violent, this lawlessness is quickly spreading across the nation.

    Aid not Weapons

    In attempts to provide humanitarian relief to the growing number of displaced families fleeing rebel forces, Unicef put together a $30million emergency appeal proposal to the U. N, but received under $8 million.

    Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, raised $4 million on a recent trip there. She admitted being motivated by “guilt” and a sense that the world had turned its back on the country.

     Bangui-based Pascal Hounier, of the European Commission’s humanitarian department, said: “Arms are flooding into the country. There were many AK47s; now there are rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weaponry. If someone wants to buy a weapon, it’s very easy, $10 to $20.”

     Since 2005 the UK has been the fourth largest European exporter of arms to the Central African Republic. Equally alarming is Britain’s role as the key supplier of arms to the unstable region of central Africa, including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both neighbors of the Central African Republic.

     According to Small Arms Survey research, 20 years of arm sales has left the country with a proliferation of small arms, and as a result, any attempts to establish long-term stability and democracy will have little chance of success.

     “The not-so-good news is that the Central African Republic remains a country in trouble. The prevalence of small arms and armed groups throughout the country, small and weak state security forces, porous borders, a tradition in Central African policy of changing governments with bullets rather than by ballots, neighbors in conflict, and the propensity of other countries’ leaders to intervene militarily across borders using proxy forces are just some of the challenges facing the government and the international community,” the report said.

     For now, the Seleka rebellion has been boosted by large numbers of foreign fighters and warlords from Chad and Sudan. These warlords have a huge arsenal of weapons. With Britain being the fourth largest supplier of arms to Chad and the second largest to Sudan, could these arms have been obtained by warlords who are now using it against people in the Central African Republic?

     Signs indicate that the Seleka are growing in strength, with scores of child soldiers joining their forces.

     Papy Kabwe, who runs a center for children near Bangui, has been working to rehabilitate children involved in the conflict. Kabwe confirmed to the Guardian that every Seleka chief had an allocation of children that they used in the recent killings.


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