Johannesburg - South Africa is coming under increasing pressure to contribute more to resolving the crisis in Central African Republic (CAR), where an African and international force of peacekeepers has been unable to stop communal and religious violence.
This week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the international community to provide 3 000 more troops on top of the 9 000 African, French and EU troops who are either in the country or due to arrive soon.
Ban, who has said he is “gravely concerned” the violence could spiral into genocide, warned that a “de facto partition” of the country was setting in, Reuters reported. At least 2 000 people have been killed and 700 000 have been displaced since December.
“The deployment of a peacekeeping operation, if authorised, will take months. The people of the Central African Republic do not have months to wait,” he said. “The international community must act decisively now.”
Ban proposed that an international force of African, French and European troops be increased by a third within weeks to 12 000 soldiers and police. The force would bridge a gap of up to six months until a UN peacekeeping force – if approved by the Security Council – could be established in the country.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Valerie Amos agreed, saying that after a three-day visit to CAR she and her colleagues “were shocked by what we saw”.
The group’s trip north of the capital was delayed on Wednesday amid heavy fighting and gunfire that blocked all roads to the airport, Sapa-AP reported.
Amos acknowledged the strong efforts being undertaken by the nearly 6 000 peacekeepers from African countries, known as Misca, along with the French, who already had sent 1 600 forces and had promised 400 more. Despite those soldiers, she said it was clear more needed to be done.
“Despite the good job that the Misca and Sangaris (French) forces are doing there are not enough troops on the ground,” she said in the capital of Bangui.
At the AU summit in Addis Ababa earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma pledged $1 million to help fund Misca.
But International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, asked if South Africa might also contribute troops to Misca, said what was needed in CAR was not more boots on the ground, but better co-ordination of the troops already there and a “needs assessment”. She said South Africa would consider providing those services if requested.
Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation said: “South Africa has just contributed US$1 million to the CAR. We are also part of the AU and IGAD and SADC efforts. What does more mean?”
Yet Ban and Amos’s remarks this week made it clear that, in fact, many more boots on the ground are needed.
And Jens Pedersen, South African humanitarian policy adviser for Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) – or Doctors Without Borders – said this week: “More than better co-ordination is needed. At the moment the effort to protect civilians is failing.”
MSF spokesman Borrie la Grange said: “Considering South Africa’s history and standing among fellow African states and in the AU, South Africa should make its stance clear on how it will help contribute to alleviating the deepening crisis threatening the people of the Central African Republic.
“From what MSF teams see on the ground, the AU’s current response through troops from regional states is failing to stop the slaughter and is not offering sufficient protection to civilians. The AU needs to look at their approach and ask whether it is having a positive impact.”
MSF has 2 240 international and national staff working in 16 towns across CAR to treat the victims of violence.
In a hard-hitting statement this week, it said that its teams on the ground were “reporting that the international community has abandoned the people of CAR”.
MSF has called on member states of the UN Security Council, the AU, as well as donor countries, to mobilise to immediately halt the atrocities against people in CAR, establish the level of safety needed for people to move freely without fear for their lives, and organise a massive deployment of aid to meet the basic needs of the population.
Local and national leaders must do their utmost to stop the violence and enhance protection.
“Our foremost concern is protection. We are caught in a sense of helplessness faced with extreme violence, treating thousands of wounded, and seeing hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes as it is their only option to avoid being slaughtered,” said Dr Joanne Liu, MSF International president, who recently returned from CAR.
“There is a shocking lack of engagement and mobilisation of political leaders in the UN Security Council, and a too-limited involvement from African countries and the AU to address the violence that is tearing apart the Central African Republic.”
Observers say contributing troops is not the only option for South Africa. It could also lend its diplomatic weight to efforts to get a UN peacekeeping force into CAR as soon as possible.
This initiative is being slowed by some African countries reluctant to hand over the responsibility to the UN for fear of failing the continent. It is also being hampered by the reluctance of some permanent UN Security Council members to foot the bill.