Central African president vows war against militia

Agence France-Presse

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'They think that because I'm a woman, I'm weak. But now the anti-balaka who want to kill, will themselves be hunted.'

FACING CONFLICT. CAR interim president Catherine Samba-Panza says she is going to war against the mostly Christian anti-balaka militia.  Photo by Issouf Sanogo/Agence France-Presse

BANGUI, Central African Republic – The new president of the Central African Republic vowed war on Wednesday, February 12, against a mostly Christian militia accused of ethnic cleansing, on the same day as the UN launched a major foodlift operation.

“We are going to go to war against the anti-balaka,” said Catherine Samba-Panza, the new president, in the town of Mbaiki, south of the capital Bangui.

“They think that because I’m a woman, I’m weak. But now the anti-balaka who want to kill, will themselves be hunted,” she said.

She was referring to the mostly Christian anti-balaka (“anti-machete”) militia that emerged last year after a mostly Muslim rebel group seized control of the country.

Amnesty International this week reported that anti-balaka violence had triggered “a Muslim exodus of historic proportions.”

“The anti-balaka have lost their sense of mission. They are now the ones who kill, who pillage, who are violent,” Samba-Panza said.

The transitional president, who took power last month, was joined on stage by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

France has grown increasingly strident in its calls for action against the anti-balaka in recent days, fearing that the violence could lead to partition of the country.

On Monday, General Francisco Soriano, commander of Operation Sangaris, described the anti-balaka as “the principal enemies of peace” in the country, who should be treated as “bandits.”

‘Exceptional operation’

Samba-Panza’s speech coincided with the launch of one of the largest emergency food airlifts ever undertaken by the United Nations, as supplies arrived in Bangui from neighboring Cameroon.

The World Food Programme’s first cargo aircraft, loaded with 80 tonnes of rice, landed in the early afternoon, WFP spokesman Alexis Masciarelli told Agence France-Presse.

He said there will be 24 daily supply drops to the city, but admitted it was still not enough to meet the desperate need in the conflict-torn country.

“This is a rather exceptional operation, our biggest emergency air operation in a long time, bigger than for Syria and the Philippines,” Masciarelli said.

But he admitted the operation “would not completely solve the problem” in CAR, where 1.3 million people – more than a quarter of the country’s population – is in need of food assistance.

The WFP says a total of 1,800 tonnes of rice will be flown in from Douala in Cameroon, enough for just 150,000 people.

Aid is most desperately needed in camps where more than 800,000 have sought refuge from the sectarian violence that has erupted in the country.

‘Ethnic cleansing’

The humanitarian situation in the CAR has deteriorated since a coup in March 2013 led by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels plunged the country into chaos.

Seleka leader Michel Djotodia was pressured into giving up the presidency last month by the international community, triggering a wave of retaliatory attacks against Muslims.

In its report this week, Amnesty International said the violence amounted to “ethnic cleansing.”

“Anti-balaka militias are carrying out violent attacks in an effort to ethnically cleanse Muslims in the Central African Republic,” said Joane Mariner, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International.

In her speech in Mangui on Wednesday, Samba-Panza rejected the “ethnic cleansing” label.

“I don’t think there is any religious or ethnic cleansing. This is a security problem,” she said.

An African Union-led MISCA mission has so far failed to end the violence that has led to a mass exodus of Muslim civilians, mainly to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.

MISCA has around 5,400 troops in the country, while France has deployed 1,600 soldiers under Operation Sangaris.

“International peacekeeping troops have failed to stop the violence,” said senior adviser Donatella Rovera.

“They have acquiesced to violence in some cases by allowing abusive anti-balaka militias to fill the power vacuum created by the Seleka’s departure.”

The most lethal attack documented by Amnesty took place on January 18 in Bossemptele, where at least 100 Muslims were killed. Women and old men were among the dead, including an imam in his mid-70s. – Rappler.com

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