CAR crisis risk to global security, says UN
17 April 2014, 16:50
Geneva – The UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the conflict in Central African Republic could embroil the whole region and threaten global security.
"It's not easy to put Central African Republic on the map of concerns of public opinion in general and governments in particular," Guterres told AFP.
"But the truth is that Central African Republic has the potential of generating levels of insecurity at regional level that can bind with other crises," he said in an interview.
The resource-rich but impoverished country borders violence-wracked South Sudan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while other countries in the region such as Nigeria and Mali have also been mired in conflict and drought.
Central Africa has endured decades of coups, army mutinies and general strikes, but since last year the conflict has taken on an ethno-religious tone in a country where Christians and Muslims had long lived peacefully.
Thousands have been killed and around a quarter of the country's 4.6 million people displaced - mostly Muslims, who make up around one-fifth of the population - and the humanitarian crisis is spiralling.
"We see fighters going from country to country, and now that a religious dimension was added to the Central African Republic crisis, all this can contribute to an increase in threats to global peace and global security," said Guterres.
In the past four months, nearly 200 000 people have fled the country, mostly to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.
Refugee numbers are expected to reach 362 000 by the end of the year, the UN forecasts.
Aid agencies launched a $274m appeal on Wednesday for refugee operations in Central Africa's neighbouring countries.
But an existing $550 million appeal for operations inside the country remains chronically underfunded, having drawn just a fifth of the sum.
"Our presence in the field is constrained both by security and funding," said William Swing, head of the International Organization for Migration, at the appeal launch.
With the Syria war, and now the conflict in Ukraine, occupying international attention, African crises tend to get forgotten "even if from the humanitarian point of view they are absolutely appalling", Guterres told AFP.
He said it was a matter not just of morality but also "enlightened self-interest" to stem them.
Central Africa's violence pits former members of the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and "anti-balaka" militias from the Christian majority.
The Seleka seized control in March 2013, but its leaders quit power this year amid chaos and under pressure from the international community.
The anti-balaka militias, first formed as self-defence groups in response to Seleka atrocities, persistently attack Muslim communities.
At least 8 000 foreign troops – 2 000 from France and most of the rest from the African MISCA force - have been trying to disarm the rival camps.
The UN Security Council voted last week to send some 12 000 peacekeepers to replace the existing force, but they are only set to deploy in September.
The European Union has meanwhile pledged to send 800 troops, who are expected to be fully operational by the end of May.