Geneva, September 20, 2017 : The president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, on Tuesday pleaded with the world to not forget his country and urged the U.N. to bolster its peace-keeping force amid growing violence that threatens to spin the country out of control.
Thousands have died and a fifth of Central African Republic nationals have fled a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias.
Fighting on the increase
Although unrest has since subsided, fighting has spiked this year and the United Nations warned this month that ethnic fighting could descend again into a much larger conflict if combatants are not disarmed.
“Central African Republic is at a critical moment in its history. We need the support of our friends; there are risks that we’ll be forgotten,” Touadera told a news conference ahead of a high-level meeting at the U.N. General Assembly.
Violence has escalated since former colonial power France last year ended its peacekeeping mission in the country, which once had as many as 2,000 soldiers. France has grown concerned by events, although officials say Paris is unlikely to return to Central Africa unless the capital were under threat.
The violence continues despite a peace deal signed between the government and rival factions in Rome last month and a 13,000-strong U.N. mission (MINUSCA), which will see its mandate renewed in November.
“The only force capable of ensuring security is the United Nations,” Touadera said. “The capacities of MINUSCA in terms of men and equipment have to be strengthened.”
Weak security forces
National security forces are too weak to tackle a multitude of armed groups and counter the spillover from conflicts in neighboring countries. Diplomats have also said that Touadera does not have the political strength to impose central government rule.
Touadera bemoaned the departure of France’s Operation Sangaris, but also the withdrawal of about 2,000 American and Uganda forces that were fighting the Ugandan rebel group The Lord’s Resistance Army and the withdrawal of MINUSCA’s Congolese battalion in the west.
“All of this has created a vacuum that the MINUSCA must fill,” he said. (VOA)
The United Nations said Monday that the five-year-old conflict in Yemen has taken a “devastating toll” on the country’s children, with thousands killed, maimed and recruited to fight since the war began.
“The impact of this conflict on children is horrific,” Virginia Gamba, U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict, told a meeting of the Security Council. “All parties to the conflict have acted and reacted militarily to events resulting in the use and abuse of children in multiple ways.”
Since monitoring began in Yemen in April 2013 (before the conflict fully erupted) until the end of the 2018, Gamba said more than 7,500 children have been killed or maimed and more than 3,000 have been verified as recruited or used, and there have been more than 800 documented cases of denial of humanitarian access to children.
Gamba said children reportedly have been forcibly recruited from schools, orphanages and communities to fight on the front lines, man checkpoints, deliver supplies or gather intelligence.
Last year, over half of the children recruited were under the age of 15. During that period, the U.N. says more than 200 were killed or maimed while being used by the warring parties.
Gamba called out the Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels for recruiting the majority of the children, followed by the Popular Resistance, Yemen Armed Forces and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
“The numbers I present to you today represent a mere fraction of violations committed against children in Yemen,” she told council members.
In addition to harm to child soldiers, Gamba said of the more than 7,500 children killed or maimed between 2013 and 2018, nearly half of the casualties were caused by Saudi-coalition airstrikes.
Another 40 percent of such casualties came in ground fighting, including shelling and mortars. Gamba said Houthi rebels were largely to blame, followed by Yemeni government forces, among others.
It is not the first time the U.N. has called out the Saudi-led coalition or the Houthis for harming Yemeni children. But while both sides say they avoid harming civilians, the toll continues to rise.
Redeployment of forces
The U.N. has been working to end the conflict. On Monday, special envoy Martin Griffiths offered a glimmer of hope that the parties might be ready to take a first step away from the battlefield.
He told council members that both the Saudi coalition-backed Yemeni government and the Houthis have accepted a detailed redeployment plan to begin moving their fighters away from the crucial Red Sea port city of Hodeida.
“We will now move with all speed toward resolving the final outstanding issues related to the operational plans for phase two, redeployments and also the issue of the status of local security forces,” Griffiths told the council in a video briefing from Amman, Jordan.
The parties committed to the plan at talks in Stockholm in December, but efforts to implement the agreement have failed. Griffiths expressed some confidence that they would go forward now.
“When — and I hope it is when and not if — these redeploys happen, they will be the first ones in this long conflict,” he said.
Griffiths acknowledged that the “the war in Yemen … shows no sign of abating,” and said there needs to be real progress on the military redeployments before the focus can shift back to the political track.
U.S. Acting U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen welcomed Houthi acceptance to phase one of the withdrawal plan and said Washington would be “watching closely to see if they make good on that agreement.”
Funds urgently needed
Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian operations in Yemen are at risk of running out of money in the coming weeks.
In February, international donors pledged $2.6 billion for Yemen relief operations. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — who are prosecuting the war against the Houthis — pledged an additional $1 billion.
But U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said that nearly four months into 2019, the response plan has received only $267 million in actual funding.
“U.N. agencies are rapidly running out of money for essential relief activities,” he warned.
The country, which is facing a cholera epidemic, could see 60% of its diarrhea treatment centers close in the coming weeks if money is not received. U.N. food programs, which provide emergency food assistance to more than 9 million people every month, would also be impacted.
“Closing or scaling back such programs — at a time when we are struggling to prevent widespread famine and roll back cholera and other killer diseases — would be catastrophic,” Lowcock said.
He also warned that a potential environmental disaster is brewing off of Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
Lowcock said that an oil tanker used as a floating storage and offloading facility, and which is 8 kilometers off the coast at the Ras Isa terminal, is old and has not received any maintenance since 2015. It has about 1.1 million barrels of oil on board.
“Without maintenance, we fear that it will rupture or even explode, unleashing an environmental disaster in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes,” Lowcock said.
A Saudi Arabian-led coalition began bombing Houthi rebels in support of Yemen’s government in March 2015. Since then, the U.N. estimates more than 10,000 people have been killed, mostly due to coalition airstrike. (VOA)