By Mike Pflanz
The Telegraph, November 20, 2013
"Thousands of United Nations peacekeepers should be dispatched urgently to halt Christian-Muslim fighting in the Central African Republic that risks spiralling into genocide, Ban Ki-moon and aid agencies have said. Months of violence have pushed the country into near-anarchy with thousands of people killed or kidnapped and over half a million forced to flee their homes. On Tuesday, Amnesty International warned there was 'no time to wait' in deploying a UN mission, citing large scale human rights abuses and possible 'crimes against humanity'. The group's call came after the UN secretary-general urged the Security Council to immediately authorise the dispatch of 6,000 blue berets to bolster an existing but ineffective force of 2,500 African peacekeepers, which is all that currently stands between Muslim former rebels and Christian vigilante groups. A further 3,000 UN peacekeepers should be on standby in case the situation deteriorates, Mr. Ban told the Security Council late on Monday. 'This cycle, if not addressed now, threatens to degenerate into a country-wide religious and ethnic divide, with the potential to spiral into an uncontrollable situation, including atrocity crimes, with serious national and regional implications,' Mr. Ban warned. Already, human rights groups say that both sides may have committed war crimes, and a UN expert on genocide said that the situation could worsen. 'We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion,' said Adama Dieng, the UN's special adviser on the prevention of genocide. 'My feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other which means that if we don't act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.' Despite deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest and most politically unstable nations in the world, and has weathered repeated coups since independence from France in 1960. The current fighting began soon after Michael Djotodia, leader of the Seleka rebels, ousted Francois Bozize, the former president, in the latest coup in March.
Observers say what has followed is the worst violence the country has seen and the first time that it has descended into inter-religious bloodshed. Muslim fighters, including mercenaries from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, who backed the rebel alliance are accused of murder, rape, mass looting and emptying villages by the threat of force. Vigilante Christian militia have since been formed to fight back. Roughly half of the Central African Republic's population is Christian and 15 percent Muslim. 'More and more you have inter-sectarian violence because the Seleka targeted the churches and the Christians, so now the Christians have created self-defence militias and they are retaliating against the Muslims,' said Gerard Araud, France's ambassador to the UN. Amid the fighting, the civilian population has been worst affected. Many thousands have sought apparent safety in churches, schools, hospitals, orphanages and even within the barbed wire guarding airport runways. Gunmen have kidnapped thousands of children to serve as soldiers or porters. Many people have been raped or tortured, and fighters facing no law enforcement have looted schools, hospitals, court-rooms, government buildings and private houses. Four in five of all doctors and nurses have fled upcountry clinics and health centres to the safety of the capital, Bangui, leaving medical care close to non-existent beyond that provided by the few aid agency staff in the country. 'The level of hopelessness and despair has reached a new low as a result of these persistent, large scale human rights violations, which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,' said Godfrey Byaruhanga, Amnesty International's researcher for the Central African Republic. Mr. Ban's plea for UN back-up urgently to be deployed to the country must still be approved by the Security Council. The need was so acute, the secretary-general said, that troops should be diverted from existing missions in nearby countries. 'UN peacekeeping forces are often notoriously slow to deploy, but there is no time to wait in the CAR,' said Jean-Eric Nkurikiye, Amnesty International's Central Africa campaigner. 'The security forces don't seem to have the will or the capacity to maintain law and order in the country. To stop these horrific killings and violence, UN troops need to be deployed immediately.'"
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]