UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomes slow but steady progress in implementing a peace agreement signed a year ago by the government of the Central African Republic and rebel groups, but is “seriously concerned” about continued hostility and violence.
The head of the United States said in a report to the United States Security Council that “peace and stability in the Central African Republic will remain fragile” and “the future will indeed be challenging”.
The international community and the people of the impoverished country “can and must” continue to move towards peace, Guterres said.
The mineral-rich Central African Republic has been exposed to deadly inter-religious and inter-communal struggles since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels took power in the capital, Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-balaka militias fought back, killing thousands and expelling thousands.
The country experienced a period of relative peace at the end of 2015 and 2016, but the violence intensified and spread thereafter.
In February 2019, the government signed a peace agreement with 14 armed groups, and Guterres said violence has decreased overall since then.
But he said that serious cases of violence and human rights violations continued at times.
He noted an “ongoing lack of good faith among signatories”, including the three main armed ex-Seleka groups and anti-Balaka groups. He also highlighted the “nominal commitment” to the peace agreement, particularly by the government forces that did so, which contributed to delays in the implementation of the agreement.
Guterres also referred to the national government’s failure to meet the January 31 deadline for completion of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and return of rebel groups, and added that some armed groups continue to conduct illegal activities.
“The risk of sparking another conflict cycle is too high and the impact too great for people, the country and the region,” said Guterres. “The population has already borne the brunt of the conflict and the impact of delayed peace.”
The United States envoy to the Central African Republic, Mankeur Ndiaye, told the Security Council on Thursday that this year was an important “turning point” for the country, which is due to hold elections for a new government in December.
Since the signing of the peace agreement, according to Ndiaye, violence has not only decreased significantly, but the state’s authority has been “gradually and continuously expanded”. Armed forces have been deployed in new areas and progress has been made in combating impunity and promoting justice, he said.
Ndiaye noted the conviction of 28 members of the anti-Balaka militia on February 7 for the murder of civilians and 10 United States peacekeepers in 2017 in Bangassou and other communities in the southeast of the country.
He said that new laws are expected, especially when a truth, justice, reconciliation, and reparation commission is established. Victims want their voices heard and “reparation for harm,” he said.
“The peace agreement is not yet peace,” said Ndiaye. “It’s a step forward, a long process.”
Key challenges include continuing violations by some armed groups that have raised illegal taxes and expanding their areas of use, as well as clashes between armed groups fighting for territory and resources, he said.
Ndiaye urged the Security Council to review “robust measures,” which typically mean sanctions, against anyone who impedes the implementation of the peace agreement.
In January, two former presidents returned to the Central African Republic – Francois Bozize, who came to power through a coup and ruled for a decade, and Michel Djotodia, Seleka’s rebel leader, who overthrew him in 2013.
“Both have reaffirmed and reaffirmed their desire to contribute to the peace and stability of the country and to contribute to peaceful elections – and we can welcome that,” said Ndiaye.
He praised current President Faustin-Archange Touadera for his openness in consulting ex-presidents “to ensure a peaceful political environment”.
Ndiaye said that it is crucial that elections are inclusive and stressed that refugees are allowed to vote and there must be candidates.