ICSR FreeRad!cals Newsblog: April 3-9
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR)
Last week, African leaders refused to recognise Michel Djotodia’s self-appointment as the CAR’s new president. Chadian president, Idriss Deby, said, ‘”it seems impossible to us to recognize a man who has appointed himself.”’ In this vein, the African Union has suspended the CAR’s membership and placed sanctions on Djotodia as an illegitimate leader. The opposition in the CAR has cautiously welcomed these decisions.
On sunday, Djotodia said he would step down if he were not chosen by a council to choose an interim president. He hopes to legitimise the government in the international community, though how quickly a leader will be chosen is uncertain.
One side effect of the new government is the suspension of the search for warlord Joseph Kony. Until missions are clarified by the African Union, they are on hold and subject to CAR consultation. The majority of African troops hunting Kony are Ugandan and stationed in the CAR, though these troops are likely to stay in place once missions are clarified. Former president Francois Bozize was a supporter of military campaigns against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who have been accused of child soldiering, kidnapping and using young girls as sex slaves.
The humanitarian situation in the country has also been declining since the coup two weeks ago. Schools are closed throughout the country and civil servants are still waiting to return to work. Water and electricity have also experienced interruptions. The situation is gravest in the northwest and in towns where Seleka’s hold is strongest, though it could easily worsen in the southeast, where the LRA remains most active. The fear is that if foreign forces leave, there will be no one to stop the LRA from ravishing the area.
Additionally, South African president Jacob Zuma has come under increasing pressure following the death of more than a dozen South Africans in the past month, leading to the withdrawal of South African forces. The announcement came Thursday, stating that South Africa had been involved in the CAR based on an agreement with Bozize and that this agreement no longer existed since rebels.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC)
The president of the rebel group M23, Bertrand Bisimwa, has issued a statement saying that the group will fight back if the UN enters M23 controlled territory. The UN authorised a taskforce against the group last month made up of almost 3,000 troops from other African states, but Bisimwa rejects foreign interference and sees Congolese peace talks as the only acceptable way forward. The group has recently been holding rallies to win support in the eastern part of the country. South African forces responded to Bisimwa’s statements by saying they are not scared of confronting rebels. South Africa currently has 1,000 troops in the DRC, which conflict they understand more fully than that in the CAR. These troops are part of the 20,000 strong UN peacekeeping force currently in the country.
The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, has come forward urging Mali to stick to its July 7 election date to ensure progress in a democratic transition. The minister also reiterated that France was preparing to reduce its military commitment to 2,000 by the election, and encouraged dialogue between factions. France has also proposed the maintenance of 1,000 troops in Mali on a permanent basis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a UN mission of over 11,000 troops last week, including the thousands of African troops already stationed in the country.
On Sunday, French forces launched an attack against jihadists in Gao who have carried out a series of attacks since the beginning of the conflict. The group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has taken French hostages, so French troops did not engage directly, though they are moving forward in the operation with help of Malian troops who know the area. Approximately 1,000 troops have been operating in a river valley north of Gao in the last major French operation before withdrawal begins.
Sectarian violence continues throughout the country, where Buddhist monks have waged a campaign against Muslims. More than 43 people were killed within four days in Meikhtila, and over 130,000 were driven from their homes. The Buddhist led riots led to the killing of 25 Muslims in Meikhtila, where the police stood by and the central government also failed to step in. Signs of ethnic cleansing are becoming difficult to ignore, with graffiti propagating ‘”Muslim extermination.”’ The increasing extremism is raising questions as to whether or not President Thein Sein really has control over his country.
The radical Buddhist group responsible for these riots is known as the ‘969 movement.’ The group uses historical and culturally-based racism against Muslims and permeates all levels of the state, including the police and local government. If Sein does not take stronger action, there is a real threat that 969 will turn into a true genocidal organisation.
On Thursday, President Goodluck Jonathan held a meeting to discuss offering amnesty to Boko Haram. He is expected to establish a commission to work out details of offering amnesty to the group’s members. However, individuals have to be identified before they can be offered amnesty and the program is put into place. Local leaders from the north have been applying pressure to Jonathan to offer amnesty to the group while leaders of other groups, including the Ijaw Youth Council, have stepped forward to condemn an offer of amnesty. Chris Ekiyo said that an offer of amnesty to Boko Haram is unreasonable because the group is so deadly and ambiguous.
by ICSR research intern Ashley Denee