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Central African ‘tragedy’ under spotlight at regional meet

Internally displaced people shelter at the catholic church of Bossangoa and the school de la Liberté on October 18, 2013. — AFP picInternally displaced people shelter at the catholic church of Bossangoa and the school de la Liberté on October 18, 2013. — AFP picN’DJAMENA, Oct 21 — The Central African Republic’s neighbours met today in Chad to discuss boosting an African peacekeeping force to protect citizens from roving armed gangs sowing terror in the country.

Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, a key backer of the regime in Bangui which came to power in a bloody March coup, called the meeting of the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

It met as EU ministers warned today of an “alarming” deterioration in security saying the country’s entire population was now at “grave risk”.

EU states urged the rapid mobilisation of the UN-ordered African-led stabilisation force MISCA which is slowly deploying to the strife-torn country.

Opening the meeting, Deby said “we urge MISCA to pursue its mission to neutralise, disarm and keep out all roving armed gangs sowing disorder and desolation.”

MISCA currently counts 2,588 men and is due to increase to 3,652.

“We invite the US, Russia, China and Britain to support ECCAS efforts by providing it with financial and material support to achieve peace in CAR,” Deby added.

A Chadian diplomatic source said regional leaders “should pass a resolution asking the United Nations to give MISCA a robust mandate to take action against uncontrolled elements in the CAR.”

Since the Seleka rebel coalition overthrew president Francois Bozize on March 24 and brought to power Michel Djotodia, who is present at the meeting, the population has been “living a tragedy” at the hands of armed gangs, a UN emergency aid mission said on Saturday.

Ten per cent of the population of five million in the poor, landlocked country have been displaced by violence, according to the United Nations.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) last week said “tens of thousands of villagers have fled a fresh wave of summary executions”, which the charity blamed on both armed groups and government forces.

The African troops have been attempting to restore security and to disarm the fighters amid fears that conflict may degenerate into a religious war pitting the CAR’s Christian majority against Muslims, who formed the bulk of Djotodia’s fighters.

Djotodia, the first Muslim leader the CAR, was reluctantly recognised by Western nations in exchange for a broad-based government and a pledge not to stand in elections when the interim period ends next year.

Under international pressure, Djotodia has officially disbanded the Seleka alliance, but some former rebel commanders have gone rogue and established mini-fiefdoms.

Atrocities carried out by ex-rebels and the other armed gangs that roam the interior have helped provoke communal violence, along with a very serious humanitarian crisis among a population already taxed by decades of rebellions, army mutinies and coups.

ECCAS leaders will consider launching an appeal to the international community to mobilise resources pledged to help the CAR but not yet forthcoming, a Chadian diplomatic source said.

Such humanitarian aid should help the CAR get through the transition period before general elections due in less than a year and a half, the source said.

Apart from the CAR, ECCAS includes Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Gabon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and the archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe. — AFP

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