US envoy in CAR in bid to end brutal violence

December 20, 2013 - 10:19:06 am

US envoy to the United Nations Samantha Power (centre) speaks with children in a refugee camp near Bangui’s airport after arriving in Central African Republic yesterday.

BANGUI: The US envoy to the United Nations was in Central African Republic (CAR) yesterday to urge political and religious leaders to end brutal violence, warning the people were “in profound danger”.

Samantha Power is the highest-level US official to visit the CAR, which has plunged into anarchy with sectarian violence that has killed hundreds of people.

Power, who before joining the US administration was a journalist and vocal human rights activist, said US leaders were “deeply disturbed” by atrocities which have forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes.

“The people in Central African Republic are in profound danger, and we all have a responsibility which we must meet to help them move away from the abyss,” Power told reporters on Wednesday.

The CAR spiralled into chaos after a March coup in which the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew president Francois Bozize.

Rebel leader Michel Djotodia was installed as the first Muslim leader of the majority Christian nation and disbanded the Seleka, but many rebels went rogue, spreading terror. Months of brutal massacres, rapes and looting have followed, with locals forming Christian vigilante groups in response to the atrocities. Top US officials have already warned the CAR is in a “pre-genocidal” phase.

Amnesty International reported yesterday  that 1,000 people were killed in Bangui two weeks ago by ex-Seleka rebels in a two-day spasm of violence after Christian militias went door-to-door and killed about 60 Muslims.

During her eight-hour stay accompanied by Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Power was due to meet Djotodia and other politicians. They also saw the top religious leaders.

“All of those actors in CAR who have influence must use it, and use their voices to try to help ease the fears... and restore calm,” Power said.

Shortly after their arrival, both women went to the community hospital in the capital, where many victims of the violence are being cared for, and they had talks there with workers for humanitarian organisations.

The US delegation then visited Bangui cathedral, which is currently home to thousands of displaced people. Power met the head of the Roman Catholic church, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, and his Muslim counterpart, the imam Oumar Kobin Layama, before going to the Lakouanga mosque in a mixed district.

Power wanted local leaders to back a UN-mandated African stabilisation force known as MISCA while it disarms militias and to “explore every avenue to ensure proper and full implementation” of a roadmap towards elections in 2015. In a ceremony yesterday, command of the regional African force passed from the Economic Community of Central African States to the African Union, whose flag was raised at the MISCA base near Bangui airport.

The US has already pledged some $100m to support MISCA, which is due to swell to about 6,000 troops.

MISCA’s chief, Congolese General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, issued a warning to people who take part in sectarian strife, noting that it “leads inevitably to suffering and division.”

“Those who persist in this attitude will run up against resolutions of the UN Security Council, which... are very clear,” mandating disarmament, he said.

“It’s obvious urgent action is required to save lives,” Power said, adding the situation was “desperate, and both extremely dynamic and volatile.”

Power was speaking on a conference call from Abuja, where she stopped for talks with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, in part focusing on how Nigeria can help French and AU forces in CAR.

In 2002, Power wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell: America and The Age of Genocide,” lambasting US governments for failing miserably in their response to genocides such as Rwanda.

A senior US administration official voiced concerns about Djotodia, saying he did not “have a grip on the situation outside of Bangui”.

The US has also been working with local radio stations to try to calm tensions by asking them to broadcast messages from both Muslim and Christian leaders, as well a special message from President Barack Obama this month.

“Hate radio played a deadly role in Rwanda two decades ago, and it is our hope that in CAR we create the opposite model, a model of radio fostering calm, countering false rumours, and building understanding,” the official added. AFP

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