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17 January 2014

Call for action over "acute crisis" in Central African Republic

Call for action over "acute crisis" in Central African Republic

Wikicommons: CAR flag - public domain

A call for urgent international intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR) crisis was made on Monday at a parliamentary briefing sponsored by Andrew Selous MP and chaired by Baroness Elizabeth Berridge.

The briefing, held by Alliance member organisation Open Doors, in partnership with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, attempted to shed light on the complex situation in the country in the wake of President Michel Djotodia's resignation last Friday.

Speaking at the briefing, humanitarian professional and church leader Michael Gowen said: "I have never seen anywhere so void of state presence as the Central African Republic. The resignation of Djotodia has brought the country to a crossroads from which it could return to anarchy."

The briefing heard that the crisis is the latest in the troubled history of the country. Violence, impunity and chaos have dominated since the overthrow in March 2013 of General Francois Bozize's government, which was marked by nepotism, underdevelopment and authoritarianism. As a result, governance in the CAR has all but disappeared and there is almost no state presence outside the capital Bangui.

Civilians, including Christians, are bearing the brunt in this largely forgotten disaster. It is reported that more than 1,000 people have died in sectarian violence, which erupted when Seleka (Islamist) rebels seized power in March last year and Djotodia became the country's first Muslim leader. Seleka militia attacked Christian civilians, prompting the forming of vigilante groups which targeted Muslims.

The gathering heard that the situation is complex due to the
country being awash with different militia groups including the Christian anti-balaka militiamen, caught up in an ugly cycle of revenge and reprisals including the beheading of children. The violence has continued in spite of the presence of 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union peacekeepers.

Describing the country as an ill-born child, Gowen said that CAR's current problems are a result of decades of neglect under the leadership of a series of weak, ineffective governments, which created a void into which the Seleka rebels moved. In November 2013 the UN warned that the country was at risk of spiralling into genocide.

An Open Doors worker reported in August that: "There is not a single day without the discovery of a body in the river Oubangui…and we don't even speak about the killings in the interior or the continuing rape of women. I cannot keep record of these anymore….these scenes overwhelm me."

Wycliffe Bible translators Paul and Jo Murrell lived in the Central African Republic between 2005 and 2013. Speaking at the briefing they described the situation as an "acute crisis" stemming from rebellions which had been simmering from 2006 onwards.

Paul Murrell said: "Thousands have suffered at the hands of Seleka soldiers. A grenade was thrown into a crowd killing a pregnant woman, another woman was shot in her home and a taxi driver was killed as he went about his business. There are photos of atrocities such as the chopping off of body parts.

"Communities are becoming polarised due to the intense suffering of ordinary people, the violation of human rights, looting, illegal occupation, abductions, rape, executions and persecution of religious leaders."

The situation is exacerbated by the fact the CAR is close to the bottom of the human development index and has often been in the relegation zone when it comes to development aid.

An emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council is due to meet next Monday to discuss ongoing rights abuses in the country.

Gowen warned that there can be no quick-fix solutions and that getting aid to where it is needed would be problematic as there is only one tarred road in the country.

"The people have little education and hope, so a gun gives them authority, and this includes child soldiers too. So don't underestimate how difficult it would be to attempt to disarm them."

He added: "UN peace keepers are not necessarily the answer to all the world's problems, but if they are chosen carefully and seen as a neutral force then there is hope."

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