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Signs of hope for CAR?

Monika Guarino (Reuters/AP)May 11, 2015

Rival militias in Central African Republic have agreed to disarm, as a week-long reconciliation forum ends in Bangui. Nevertheless, analysts say the work of reconciling the strife-torn nation will require more effort.

A man closes his eyes and folds his hands in contemplation. Photo: AFP PHOTO/ ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

According to the deal, anyone involved in the "crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity" was to be denied amnesty.

The top UN official in the country welcomed the agreement struck on Sunday (10.05.2015) between ten armed groups and the Defense Ministry during a peace forum in the capital, Bangui. "On the path towards peace, the step made today is a very important one," said Gen. Babacar Gaye, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Central African Republic.

Under the agreement, the militia groups committed to renounce "armed fighting as a means of making political claims and to enter into the process of Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reinsertion and Repatriation (DDRR)." Some members of armed factions are to be absorbed into the army, a process which will be supported by 10,000 UN peacekeepers.

Country's future at stake

The agreement came at the end of a week-long peace and reconciliation forum in Bangui, where about 700 politicians, representatives of civil society groups and others came together to discuss the country's future.

Among the recommendations adopted at the conference was the extension of the mandate of the transitional government.The forum called for the transitional authorities to delay planned elections amid concerns the country would be unable to prepare for them on time.

French soldiers patrol a street in Bangui. Photo: AFP PHOTO / PACOME PABANDJI (Photo credit should read PACOME PABANDJI/AFP/Getty Images)
The demobilization process will be supported by UN peacekeepersImage: AFP/Getty Images/P. Pabandji

The peace forum had been convened to help end the country's two-year conflict, which has killed thousands and displaced nearly a million people in the impoverished country.

Challenge of implementation

While the top UN representative in CAR believes a new page has now been turned, Roland Marchal, a senior research fellow at the Centre for International Studies and Research in Paris, remains skeptical. He argues that the nature of the groups made any agreement signed by their presumed leaders very difficult to implement at the grassroots level.

Marchal estimates that the political leaders of the anti-balaka groups may represent only half of them, while Seleka was a movement that had been split from the very beginning. So it is unclear whether people will obey their leaders.

He was also worried that while most fighters wanted to enter the DDRR process, the international community may only be willing to fund a much cheaper process that would not include many of those fighters. "Therefore it would create a lot of bitterness among those who are left out," Marchal told DW.

A very young Seleka coalition rebel poses near the presidential palace in Bangui. Photo: AFP PHOTO / SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed factions have agreed to release all child soldiersImage: Getty Images/AFP/S. Kambou

The expert on CAR said because the groups behaved like thugs, people tended to overlook a number of social grievances reflected by the groups. "I'm not sure those grievances are being addressed in any decent manner by the so-called Bangui forum," he said.

Social grievances not fully addressed

"Sociologically, those armed groups are quite different, and you have to assess those differences in order to make any disarmament and demobilization plan work," Marchal said. "You need some kind of a political process to make people believe that there is an option for a better CAR." Unfortunately this was left to the elections, he said, while a number of grievances concerning citizenship, the national languages, the question of reparations for the victims as well as the status of migrants who have settled in CAR for a long time were not being resolved.

A transitional government led by Catherine Samba-Panza has been charged with organizing elections and restoring democratic rule, and some order has returned to the country, although there are still sporadic killings.

Portrait of Central African Republic's interim President Catherine Samba-Panza. Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (BELGIUM - Tags: POLITICS)
Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has been given more timeImage: Reuters

But Roland Marchal thinks the government is very much centered around Bangui and the social and political elites. "The sense that they will have to reach out to populations far away and that they will have to share the national cake with the poorer section of the population is absolutely not in the minds of those in government," he said.

Political process requires leadership

"I believe the government has no interest in going to elections and addressing and shaping the political process of national reconciliation and disarmament," Marchal said. "It will just move as far as the foreigners and donors are asking it to move."

For Marchal the only discernible message of hope was that in many parts of the country people were taking the initiative to calm the situation and repair the social fabric of the country. But this was not due to government action; it was being done by the people themselves.

"We are still very early in a peace settlement, and my concern is that through this forum the government just gets the ability to be extended at least for six months," Marchal said. He said he could not see who was going to lead the reconciliation and the political process.