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CAR rebels refuse to disarm, fears for region

02 October 2013, 09:03

Bangui - Two weeks after President Michel Djotodia ordered the Seleka rebel coalition dissolved - a group he once headed and which brought him to power after a coup six months ago - the rebels in the Central African Republic are refusing to obey the instructions of their former leader.

Amid the violence and lawlessness, the danger of renewed political instability now looms large and threatens to pull the entire region into the impoverished nation's conflict.

General Jean Felix Akaga, commander of the 2 000-soldier-strong regional peacekeeping force in CAR, said it would be "regarded as a declaration of war" against the 10 other states in Central Africa if Seleka does not disband.

Akaga has given the rebels an ultimatum: If weapons are not laid down this week, a forceful disarmament will begin.

In an attempt to reaffirm his authority, Djotodia in mid-September instructed the riotous Seleka coalition that he had ruled during the country's December 2012 rebellion to be disbanded.

400 000 displaced

Under Djotodia's command, the rebels ousted president Francois Bozize and plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis that the UN said has displaced almost 400 000 of CAR's 4.5 million people and killed scores of civilians.

But since Djotodia seized power in March and was sworn in as president five months later, he has struggled to restore law and order in the land-locked country rich in diamonds and gold.

Seleka rebels, drawn mostly from the country's Muslim minority, continue to fight former soldiers loyal to Bozize as well as Christian vigilante groups.

"No officer of the Seleka coalition has expressed willingness to lay down weapons ... They are refusing to co-operate," Public Security Minister Josue Binoua said.

Instead, the coalition continues to kill civilians, conscript child soldiers and destroy homes, schools and churches, according to Human Rights Watch.

‘Swift action’ yet to happen

The international community has been emphasising CAR's crisis for months. And although millions of dollars have been pledged to aid the country, the promised "swift action" to put an end to the crisis has yet to be fulfilled.

The European Union pledged to increase humanitarian funds by €8m, adding to the more than €150m it provided to CAR in aid since 2008.

But, so far, little progress has been made on curbing religious tensions and halting human rights violations.

"This has a potentially destabilising impact, which could spread far beyond the local context," said Michael Mann, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in Brussels on Tuesday.

During a sideline meeting at last month's UN General Assembly, United States, EU and United Nations diplomats warned CAR's crisis had turned "desperate".

So desperate in fact that President Francois Hollande said France's former colony was at risk of "Somaliasation" - a term that has come to refer to lawless countries without a stable government with centralised authority.

Hollande called on the UN Security Council for logistical and financial support for the African Union peacekeeping force in CAR, which, together with the regional forces led by General Akaga, has about 3 500 troops.

Food shortages

Recent attacks sparked fresh displacements in rebel strongholds in the north-west, where Christian vigilante groups have taken up arms against the Muslim Seleka rebels, according to the UN.

Residents told a UN observer mission of multiple abuses by both sides in the conflict, including murder, rape and torture.

"The situation remains very tense. People spoke of arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, extortion and illegal taxation by armed men," a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement.

Those who have fled the violence have been suffering food shortages for months now.

"Malnutrition of children is two times higher than at the same time last year," noted UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

"CAR is not yet a failed state, but has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken," she added.



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