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France underestimated religious 'hatred' in CAR, envoy says

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-16

France’s ambassador told a UN meeting on Wednesday that his country underestimated the levels of "hatred" between Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic before launching an intervention to restore peace in the country.

“We knew there was some inter-sectarian violence, but we did not foresee such deep, ingrained hatred,” said UN Ambassador Gérard Araud. He said the UN-backed MISCA mission is “facing a situation where we are between two communities that want to kill each other”.

“It is nearly an impossible situation for the African and French soldiers,'' he said.

Araud said France is currently debating what the soldiers should do to prevent the killings. He suggested consultations with psychologists or ethnologists could help shed light on the deep roots of the hatred, since calls from religious leaders on both sides for an end to the fighting are being ignored.

Hundreds if not thousands of people have been killed since Michel Djotodia’s Seleka rebels took power in a March coup. He officially disbanded the rebel group after he seized power, becoming the Christian majority country’s first Muslim president, but some former rebels launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting some Christian communities to form vigilante militias.

Djotodia resigned last week under international pressure for failing to halt the violence.

Calls for more troops

Araud’s assessment came as the African Union (AU) said the MISCA mission required more troops to help stabilise the conflict-torn nation, which remains tense as its transitional parliament struggles to reach agreement on the rules for electing a new interim president on Saturday.

The MISCA (African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic) force, which currently has 4,400 soldiers but was meant to have up to 6,000, is struggling to stop the country’s descent into further sectarian bloodshed.

“The AU calls on your authority to provide the means for MISCA ... to comfortably pursue its mandate,” AU special representative for the Great Lakes Boubacar Diarra told a summit in Angola, urging the leaders present to help “definitively stabilise the situation”.

However, regional leaders ended their meeting without reaching a firm decision on deploying more troops.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, whose country is currently head of the 12-nation International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, said emphasis should be on the strengthening of state institutions in the strife-torn country.

“Angola ... will focus its assistance on the humanitarian side to support the peace process and transition to democracy,” Dos Santos said.

Excluding candidates

One of the rules under consideration for candidacy would bar anyone from running who has been in a rebel group or militia in the past 20 years.

“That’s a lot of people in the Central African Republic,” said one lawmaker.

The poor, landlocked country of 4.6 million people has had a long history of coups and rebellions since gaining independence from France in 1960.

But the main stumbling block for the 135 lawmakers in the interim parliament was whether to acquiesce to international pressure to abstain from standing as candidates themselves.

Noel Essongo – a representative for a committee on the crisis that represents France, the United Nations and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) – has told lawmakers to step aside.

“The international community calls on the National Transitional Council not to act as judge and jury in an essential election for the strategic continuation of the transition,” Essongo said.

“We invite the National Transitional Council to contribute to peaceful and transparent elections by adopting consensual criteria and excluding all its members from running.”

But some interim MPs oppose the exclusion. “International donors and ECCAS are making demands. They give us ‘opinions’, but we have the impression they are twisting our arms,” said one member of parliament, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Interim leader Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, the speaker of parliament, on Wednesday confirmed earlier reports that he would not run for president on Saturday.

Nguendet said he wanted to “promote a climate of calm” for the vote.

There have been signs of improved security in Bangui in recent days, thanks in part to the massive MISCA presence and the 1,600-strong French mission, known as Sangaris.

But some residents said the violence was continuing.

“The killings are still going on quietly in our neighbourhoods,” said one.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

Date created : 2014-01-16

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