Peace talks aimed at ending chronic violence in the Central African Republic began in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Thursday, January 24, attended by representatives of the government and 14 armed groups.
Brokered by the African Union, the African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic Inter-Central African Dialogue between Government and Armed Groups began after 18 months of exploratory work
It is the the eighth bid in six years to agree a lasting peace. The last attempt, in 2017, was forged with the help of the Catholic Church, but fighting resumed within a day, leaving 100 dead.
The leaders of the armed groups will speak directly with high-ranking emissaries of the Bangui government, including ministers and President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s chief of staff.
The talks, aimed at reaching an accord and setting up a follow-up committee, could last up to three weeks, according to Sudanese authorities.
Official opening of direct dialogue between the Government of the Central African Republic (@GouvCF ) and 14 armed groups; towards lasting peace & reconciliation, under the auspices of @_AfricanUnion w/ the support of the @UN , today in #Khartoum . #CARpeace pic.twitter.com/jRDZnFyiTd
— MINUSCA (@UN_CAR) January 24, 2019
In August, the Facilitation Panel of the African Initiative of the African Union met with armed groups, where they agreed 104 demands later presented to the government.
Five issues were “put to one side” by the A.U., including the demand for a general amnesty. Five human rights organizations united in opposition to an amnesty for the armed groups which they said “would be incompatible with the government’s duty to bring those responsible for grave international crimes to justice.”
It was unclear which militia leaders attended the opening of the talks, but journalist Fridolin Ngoulou noted that Ali Darassa, the leader of the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) ex-Seleka militia was spotted in Khartoum. Darassa had previously said he would not attend.
For 10 days earlier this month, UPC militants fought U.N. peacekeepers and Central African Armed Forces in Bambari.
Humanitarian organisations have stressed the importance of the talks for CAR’s population. Violence since 2012 led to thousands of deaths. Nearly 700,000 people are displaced, 570,000 have fled the country and 2.9 million – 63 per cent of the population – are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the U.N.
“Central African Republic is steering towards a catastrophe, unless upcoming peace talks succeed,” Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland said on Wednesday.
Egeland, who recently visited CAR, said that the “Central African government and the international community have failed in their response to the crisis.
“We now need to seize this opportunity to prevent the country from sliding backwards into a full-blown war,” Egeland said.
“Currently, the willingness of the international community to fund the humanitarian and development work in Central African Republic has been lacking,” he added.
According to NRC, donor countries provided less than half of the $516 million needed for humanitarian relief in 2018.
The U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in CAR has requested $430.7 million to fund the Humanitarian Response Plan in 2019.
Despite reserves of diamonds, gold, uranium, copper and iron, Central African Republic remains one of the world’s poorest countries.
Fighting broke out between the Seleka, a coalition of mainly Muslim rebel groups, and the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia in 2012. A peace deal was singed in January 2013, but Seleka rebels captured the capital Bangui that March and ousted President Francois Bozize.
Seleka was officially disbanded within months, but many fighters refused to disarm, becoming known as ex-Seleka. Many others joined the anti-balaka militia to fight the Seleka, leading to a spiral of violence between groups along religious and ethnic lines.
Elected in 2016, President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s weak government controls around a fifth of the country and relies heavily on the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Minusca, for support. The rest is controlled by at least 14 different militia groups who often fight each other for revenue from extortion, roadblocks or mineral resources.
A Special Criminal Court has been set up to decide cases of serious rights violations committed in the country since 2003.
With reporting from AFP