Muslims March in Central African Republic
Body of a man draped in a string of protective charms typical of the anti-balaka Christian militiamen
Dozens of Muslims marched down the streets of Bangui on Tuesday to demand the departure of French troops, who were deployed to Central African Republic this month to try to pacify fighting, and have instead been accused of taking sides in the nation's sectarian conflict.
I doubt that the French forces have taken sides yet. The simple truth is that the Muslim Seleka forces are well armed and have shown no restraint in the both their rebellion and since March as part of the governing authorities of CAR when it comes to robbing and killing christians. The Seleka forces have retaliated to anti-balaka militias with a brutality that is hard to comprehend.
The marchers, almost all of them young and male, began their demonstration in the Kilometer 5 neighborhood, a mostly Muslim section of the capital which has been the scene of clashes with French forces.
It marks a dangerous turning point for the more than 1,600 French soldiers sent here, who were initially cheered by the population, who ran out to greet the arriving troops, waving tree branches, and holding up pieces of cardboard emblazoned with welcoming messages. That was before French President Francois Hollande bluntly said that the country's Muslim president needed to go, and before French forces were accused of only disarming Muslim fighters and ignoring the Christian militias who have infiltrated the city, organizing attacks on mosques, and on neighborhoods like Kilometer 5, where a majority of Muslims live.
In a country that is 85% christian I think that the dangerous turning point is not so much for the French but for the Seleka rebels. The immediate danger for France is in Europe and one that should have been clear to them.
" The Europeans' widespread refusal to enter the CAR comes as an embarrassing disappointment for the French government, whose Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, told the lower house of the French National Assembly earlier this week: "We will soon have troops on the ground provided by our European colleagues."
France is now left with the unpalatable option of having to shoulder the task in the CAR more or less alone. Hollande's much vaunted new African policy appears to be in tatters." France will tell African leaders at a Paris summit on Friday it will no longer play policeman on the continent, even as it prepares to act in a new conflict in Central African Republic after its Mali intervention this year.
...France's stance on the Central African Republic (CAR), a former colony, has shown how far its policy has evolved, initially only sending in troops to protect its nationals and interests.
Paris first refused to agree to appeals by former President Francois Bozize for his "cousins" to help him fight Seleka rebels ousting him earlier this year.
And then, as soon as Bozize was ousted in March, Paris declined an African request to send more troops and drew down its troop numbers, saying it was up to Africans to do the job.
The message was clear. The old ways of doing business - a mix of post-colonial graft and patronage called "Francafrique" and which suited dictators and France alike - were over.
Paris will no longer prop up dictators or back rebellions and will seek U.N. mandates and consult African leaders before intervening.
Perhaps propping up Francois Bozize who undoubtedly fell into the Dictator category would have been the better option in hindsight.
On Tuesday the crowds making their way down the deserted city streets were holding signs that said: "We say No to France!" and "Hollande = Liar." Other signs had a hand drawn map of this nation located at the heart of Africa, but showed it split into two, with a Muslim homeland penciled in in the country's north.
That is not going to happen. The French haven't conducted their operations in Mali against Muslim separatists only to allow a new Muslim state to emerge in the Central African Republic.
The map shows Muslim nations to the north east and west, there would be little appetite for a new Muslim nation not only in the West but also from African neighbours to further south.
Central African Republic slipped into chaos following a coup in March, which was led by a Muslim rebel group. They overran the capital and installed a Muslim president, while the nation's Christian leader was forced to flee with his family. The country is 85 percent Christian, and when the Muslim rebels began attacking Christian villages, first to steal their belongings and cattle, a sectarian divide emerged. Pillaging turned to killing, and by the time French forces arrived earlier this month, at least 500 people had been killed in communal violence, including mob lynchings, their bodies so numerous community leaders had to dig enormous holes for their mass graves.
Seleka are actually an alliance of Rebel groups. The new interim President Michel Djotodia has very little control it would seem over the factions. In fact he seems to have very little influence full stop." On 3 April 2013, African leaders meeting in Chad declared that they did not recognize Djotodia as President; instead, they proposed the formation of an inclusive transitional council and the holding of new elections in 18 months, rather than three years as envisioned by Djotodia. Speaking on 4 April, Information MinisterChristophe Gazam Betty said that Djotodia had accepted the proposals of the African leaders; however, he suggested that Djotodia could remain in office if he were elected to head the transitional council. Djotodia accordingly signed a decree on 6 April for the formation of a transitional council that would act as a transitional parliament. The council was tasked with electing an interim president to serve during an 18-month transitional period leading to new elections
The transitional council, composed of 105 members, met for the first time on 13 April 2013 and immediately elected Djotodia as interim President; there were no other candidates. A few days later, regional leaders publicly accepted Djotodia's transitional leadership, but, in a symbolic show of disapproval, stated that he would "not be called President of the Republic, but Head of State of the Transition". According to the plans for the transition, Djotodia would not stand as a candidate for President in the election that would conclude the transition."
The French have stepped up patrols and are working to debunk perceptions that they are biased in this war. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani on Tuesday reacted to accusations that the French force, known as Sangaris, had targeted Muslims.
French troops stop a government minister's car carrying Seleka soldiers, at a checkpoint in Bangui, Central African Republic, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013.
Great photo of the French troops behaving in an impartial manner.
"Since their deployment Dec. 5, the soldiers of the Sangaris operation are operating according to three principles: impartiality, firmness, and controlled use of force," he said. "They are demonstrating this daily, in contributing to the disarming of all armed groups, without distinction, and in intervening between groups to avoid violence and abuses."
Which is fine except that it doesn't work very well.
" Human rights groups warn that disarming the armed groups, one of the French objectives, could backfire unless both Christian and Muslim militias are disarmed at the same time. Amnesty International has documented cases where French forces disarmed Séléka rebels, who were then attacked by militia fighters, and the other way around. Analysts and security experts worry that France doesn’t have a strategy for how to stop the sectarian violence."
A young woman, Edith Benguere, a Christian, ran into the march by accident when she went to the bank to withdraw money. Frightened, she hid and watched, and saw how the demonstrators were acting aggressively against the French forces, positioned along the route.
"Armored personnel carriers had taken positions in different parts of town. But the soldiers would simply backtrack whenever the demonstrators came near them, to avoid conflict," she said. "One of the demonstrators was screaming at the top of his lungs: 'We are ready! We have grenades ... We are ready for whatever comes today, even if we need to die,'" she said.
I suspect that the French will soon have to reach a decision and jump. Should they opt to walk away then French credibility in Africa is over. The UN has its hands full in South Sudan and the African Union force MISCA ( International Support Mission to the Central African Republic ) have a sizable contingent from Muslim countries. The AU's Multinational Force for Central Africa (FOMAC), will transfer to MISCA, comprises soldiers from Gabon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, and Cameroon. That the Seleka coalition have chosen to go against France leaves the French only one real option, they can't walk so they will have to back a new administration that doesn't include Seleka. How long can this regime last ? How ironic, to be asking that question again after 360 days, or should that be degrees.