The U.N.’s military chief in Central African Republic said that peacekeepers in support of the government will use any means necessary to restore security to Bambari, where clashes between armed groups last week left dozens of casualties.
The Minusca Force Commander visited the town on May 21 and met civil and military authorities, humanitarian organizations, and leaders of armed groups including anti-Balaka militia and the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), according to a Tuesday, May 22 Minusca release.
“Bambari must without delay become a town without armed groups and MINUSCA, in support of the government forces, will use all the means at its disposal to restore security in this town,” Senegal’s Lieutenant General Balla Keita said.
On May 16, Minusca said it had retaken control of the town following two days of violence that left at least eight people dead. Armed men reportedly attacked the town hall, police station, gendarmerie, hospital, NGO bases and the local radio station.
The same day, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a release that clashes ceased during the afternoon of May 15 after the Minusca intervention, but sporadic gunfire was heard in some parts of the city into the night.
Citing the Central African Red Cross (CRCA), OCHA said around 7,000 people had fled their homes and gathered in a spontaneous site around the Minusca base, as well as in IDP camps in the town.
It said at least four humanitarian organizations were completely looted.
On May 18, CRCA President Antoine Mbao Bogo said that 32 people had died and 23 were injured in the events in Bambari, Radio Ndeke Luka reported.
General Keita said on Tuesday that additional Minusca personnel will be deployed to the town to ensure respect for the U.N.’s flagship “Bambari without armed groups” initiative, calling it a “showcase of the restoration of the authority of the state.”
Bambari straddles several areas under the influence of various armed groups and has enjoyed a relative calm since the intervention of Minusca in early 2017 to oust the UPC. The U.N. subsequently made Bambari a showcase for its intervention in CAR, arguing that the town was “without arms or armed groups” and inter-community initiatives have emerged in recent months.
According to some reports, fighters from UPC, an ex-Seleka militia group led by Ali Darras, were responsible for the violence in Bambari, but a UPC spokesperson denied that its fighters had entered the town.
The group is reportedly among other ex-Seleka militias that have been gathering in northern town of Kaga Bandoro since early April, threatening to move on the capital, Bangui. On May 13, two French Mirage 2000-D fighter jets conducted a show of force in Kaga Bandoro, supporting the U.N. plan to deter the militias from heading south.
“We will do our best to strengthen neighborhood patrols with the internal security forces and stop looting,” Keita said, urging NGOs and agencies not to leave the town. “Populations need more than ever your presence and your interventions in the current context.”
“As Bambari town without armed groups is a non-negotiable principle, MINUSCA, in support of the government, demands that all armed groups leave the city immediately,” Keita said, addressing the leaders of armed groups.
However, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) says that nearly 39,000 displaced people still live in camps on either side of the river that divides Bambari and its communities. It says that the U.N.’s “unarmed town” initiative has only moved the problem towards Alindao, Ippy and the Ndassima mining areas in the north.
The Minusca release said all the actors agreed to a second meeting on May 22 in Bambari.
U.N. peacekeepers in the area have also faced serious violence.
On May 17, a Mauritanian peacekeeper was killed and eight others injured in a suspected anti-Balaka attack on a U.N. convoy south of Alindao not far from Bambari, the U.N. mission said. On April 2, a temporary U.N. base in nearby Tagbara came under heavy attack from anti-balaka militia. One U.N. peacekeeper from Mauritania was killed and 11 others were wounded and more than 22 anti-balaka fighters were killed.
President Faustin Archange Touadera’s weak government controls around a fifth of the Central African Republic and relies heavily on Minusca for support. The rest is controlled by at least 14 different militia groups – the mainly Christian anti-Balaka in the southwest and mainly Muslim ex-Seleka in the northeast – who often fight each other for control of revenue from extortion, roadblocks or mineral resources.