One month after the rebel movement Séléka took over power in the Central African Republic, unrest is spreading in the country. The new leader lacks control of his forces, which continue looting and abusing civilians.
Séléka leader Michel Djotodia proclaimed himself as transitional president of the Central African Republic on 25 March this year, and since that, he has promised to lead the country towards full-fledged democracy and organise elections no later than 2014.
But now, there are an overwhelming number of signs that the situation in the country is disintegrating and getting out of control, rather than heading towards an orderly democratisation.
Djotodia leads a loosely composed alliance of different militia groups opposing the old regime in Bangui, and Séléka indeed means no more than “alliance” in Sango language. Several of the groups belonging to Séléka had earlier been accused of recruiting child soldiers and committing systematic right violations against the civilian population during years of fighting in the bush.
Now, several UN agencies are alerted by the fact that the rebel groups have not changed their practices since taking over power in Bangui. Renewed fighting and violence is reported from all over the country, including “punitive expeditions” and attacks on civilians. And it seems that the militia groups in this vast country are mostly operating on their own, without control from the leadership in the capital, Bangui.
Continued recruitment of child soldiers
The UN’s children agency Unicef now reports about ever-increasing violence against children, “including on a playing field and at a church,” where many minors are killed or wounded in the crossfire. Weeks after Séléka took over power in Bangui, “widespread insecurity, looting and violence have put the lives of Central African children at greater risk than ever,” Unicef reports from its Bangui office.
The UN agency further deplores that children still are recruited as soldiers even after Séléka took over power and that “there has been a documented increase in cases of sexual violence.” Souleymane Diabate from the Unicef office in Bangui says that “we are seeing a country quickly sliding down into a spiral of chaos with more children’s lives endangered.”
It is indeed not hard to find proof for Unicef’s claims, not even in the open in downtown Bangui. Journalists from ‘Associated Press’ met many children bearing uniform and patrolling the streets of the capital, some openly telling the reporters they were only 14 years old. All the child soldiers were integrated in the Séléka militia.
Also the South African troops, which were in the country providing training and were attacked by the Séléka militia on 24 March, documented that the militia even used child soldiers in battle. After the attack, where 13 South African soldiers were killed, the shocked troops could established they had fought against children, killing several of them. “We did not come here to do this, to kill children,” a disgusted paratrooper told the South African ‘Sunday Times’.
Looting and abuses
At the same time, the UN refugee agency UNHCR reports that there now is a second wave of civilians escaping abuses in the Central African Republic. At least 30,000 refugees have already left the country and arrived neighbouring Congo (Kinshasa), while another 8,000 have settled in Cameroon and Chad. And there is a steady stream of new arrivals.
Central African refugees in Congo told UNHCR officials about new abuses from the Séléka militia in Bangui, where the uncontrolled fighters keep looting private homes and shops. Last week, the militia opened fire on local residents that protested against the looting and abuses.
The international society now is protesting against the ever-increasing lawlessness in the country. Jeffrey Feltman, a senior representative for the UN Secretary General, yesterday visited Bangui to gather information about the situation. “Those who have seized power must shoulder their responsibilities and control those elements under their command,” Mr Feltman stressed at a press conference in Bangui yesterday.
The UN representative also held talks with the Central African Prime Minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, who was appointed as a unity figure after peace talks in January this year and is held high by the UN. The primary mission of Mr Tiangaye is organising a democratic transition and elections, but he is said to have little control with the situation since Séléka took power one month ago. Mr Feltman avoided official talks with any Séléka representative during his stay.
While the UN and African Union (AU) demand elections and the “return to constitutional order” in the Central African Republic, Mr Feltman said that “foremost at this time is the urgent need to establish law and order throughout the country and to protect civilians from abuse.” He strongly criticised the documented increase in murder, looting, rape, attacks on civilians and human rights abuses.
Also the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague yesterday voiced its interest in the situation. ICC Presecutor Fatou Bensouda said the situation in the Central African Republic was “under close scrutiny by my office” and that she would “not hesitate to prosecute those responsible” for the violence in the country, which could amount to war crimes.