NAIROBI, Kenya — United Nations peacekeepers are a step closer to being deployed to the Central African Republic (CAR) as part of international efforts to forestall the country’s total collapse into sectarian violence and anarchy in the wake of a rebel takeover in March this year.
Meeting in New York on Thursday, the 15-member United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted the French-backed resolution to bolster support for a proposed African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, while urging Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to consider deploying a full-fledged UN peacekeeping mission.
CAR’s ambassador to the UN, Charles-Armel Doubane, welcomed the unanimous adoption of the resolution. "Your vote provides a glimmer of hope for the 4.6 million men, women and children in the CAR," Doubane told the Security Council.
The six-page resolution decries the “total breakdown of law and order” in the country since a rebel alliance called Seleka seized power seven months ago, and calls on all armed groups to “lay down their arms immediately."
The UN and human rights groups say that both the rebels and their opponents have committed abuses including murder, rape, burning of houses, looting and forced displacement.
The resolution also says elections should be held in early 2015, as planned, to replace the interim administration with one that has a popular mandate.
France, which has about 400 soldiers in CAR, is pushing most strongly for moves to stabilize its former colony. But France says it has no intention of deploying thousands of its own troops there, as it did in Mali at the start of the year when it was feared Al Qaeda aligned militant groups were poised to overrun the country.
The AU plans to deploy a total of 3,600 soldiers to CAR, including the 1,100 who are already in the country. But the African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA) is unlikely to begin operating before the end of the year.
Thursday’s resolution suggests turning the AU mission into a UN one, granting it greater political clout and access to resources. France would like to see the force doubled in size.
France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who last month warned that CAR risked becoming a new Somalia, is due to visit the country on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the chaos and the killing continue.
“Violence worsened, religious tensions increased and humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate,” said the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank in its most recent situation report issued at the start of October.
This week up to 60 people were killed in Gaga, a mining village about 150 miles northwest of the capital Bangui, when Muslim Seleka rebels clashed with Christian supporters of the ousted president. It was a further worrying sign that the violence roiling the country is increasingly sectarian.
“The Seleka fighters went door to door. It was total terror,” one survivor told Reuters.
In recent days there have been reports of Islamic militants crossing into the country as the rebel administration led by self-appointed rebel-turned-president Michel Djotodia proves unable either to control territory or exert state authority.
Muslim Janjaweed fighters from neighboring Sudan and Chad are said to number among Seleka’s ranks, and France has warned that Islamic extremists from northern Nigeria and Mali may also have sought refuge in the country, too.
Meanwhile, the Lord’s Resistance Army, an outlawed group that under the leadership of the fugitive mystic Joseph Kony has terrorized civilians for the last quarter century, is also finding respite as US-led efforts to hunt the group down have faltered amid CAR’s instability.
CAR was considered a “phantom state” even before the Seleka rebels took over.
The ousted president Francois Bozize had himself taken power by force a decade earlier, and during his years in power did little to convert CAR’s wealth of gold, diamonds, uranium, oil and timber into better lives for its people. But since March, things have gone from bad to worse.