French and AU troops have been reinforced in the Central African Republic. Although it is a positive development, the killing of civilians continues.
The efforts made so far will not be enough to stabilize the country, observers warn. The international military operation in the Central African Republic is now in full swing, after the UN Security Council approved a military operation on Thursday (05.12.2013).
Since then France has already deployed several hundred soldiers in the crisis-stricken country. The African Union (AU) intends to increase the size of its peacekeeping force from 2,500 to 6,000 soon.
The French army has begun disarming militias in the capital Bangui. The operation started off "fairly well," according to French army chief of staff in Paris. But there was also a major setback when two French paratroopers were killed Monday night (10.12.2013) in Bangui.
"Resistance was probably expected," said Thierry Vircoulon, project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank. "The rebels never said that they would be willing to disarm."
The interim government of the Central African Republic had been trying to persuade them for months without success, Thierry Vircoulon pointed out.
Observers say that despite the recent international troop reinforcements, establishing peace in the Central African Republic could turn out to be more difficult for the soldiers than was anticipated by the French government.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had announced a brief deployment "to return peace and stability" to the country.
A powerless president
The president of the Central African Republic, Michel Djotodia, seems to be powerless in the face of the atrocities that are being committed in his country day by day.
He no longer has any influence on the Seleka rebels, who brought him to power in March.Their ranks include many fighters from neighboring Chad and Sudan. They control large swathes of the Central African Republic and will not take orders from anyone.
Although Djotodia welcomes the intervention of the international community, AU and French troops can hardly count on support from Central African security forces. "The national army is in a desolate condition; it is practically nonexistent.
And within the armed forces, there are still people who are collaborating with the Seleka rebels," said Jean-Claude Allard, director of research at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris. In his view, it would be extremely difficult to restore security with the present international troop strength.
Troop deployment brings hope for peace
"A few thousand troops from the AU and France, while it is a good start, it's not enough. More troops are needed on the ground to establish viable peace and allow humanitarian aid to reach the people, and then move towards an eventual political solution," says Lewis Mudge, a researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch.
He also said what is also important is to find a remedy for the grievances that led to the Seleka rebellion in the first place.The Muslim population in the northeast of the country had been very much neglected by the government in Bangui.
"I met Seleka fighters who were telling me things like, 'I have never seen a paved road in my life, and we come to Bangui and we see that this is a developed country.' So there needs to be real efforts to include larger centres … into the development program."
In the meantime, however, development has become little more than a distant prospect in all parts of the country. Many roads are no longer passable; vitally important trade with neighboring Cameroon has come to a standstill.
Aid organizations estimate that over half a million people have fled their villages. Twice as many are no longer capable of meeting their daily food requirements themselves.
Several lives have been destroyed. In the capital Bangui 400 people have been killed in the past few days. Even if international troops succeed in restoring stability, normality is still a long way off.
Religion fuelling the conflict
The new wave of violence in the Central African Republic had begun a little over a year ago. The Seleka rebel coalition took over large swathes of the country. In March they reached the capital Bangui.
The previous president, Francois Bozize, fled, and rebel leader Michel Djotodia installed himself as the new head of state. Although he officially dissolved the rebel alliance in September, former Seleka fighters continue to commit acts of violence against the civilian population.
This has led to the formation of local self-defense groups, the anti-balaka. Many of them are cooperating with supporters of the ousted president, Bozize.
Apart from the political conflict, there is also a religious component. The Seleka rebels are Muslim, and so is about 15 percent of the Central African population. The anti-balaka groups equate all Muslims with the Seleka and they, too, murder civilians and burn down their villages.
By and large, Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic had been living together peacefully before. But now people feel they have to take sides in line with their religious affiliation, as they hope to gain some measure of protection.