The government of Central African Republic struck a peace deal with 14 armed groups at African Union-brokered talks in Khartoum on Saturday, February 2, a step towards ending years of fighting that has killed thousands.
“A peace agreement has been reached…” the government announced on Twitter. “This agreement should be initialled tomorrow [Sunday] and its signature will take place in Bangui in a few days.”
The content of the agreement has not yet been revealed.
“I am humbled to announce that with the exemplary cooperation I received from both the Government of the CAR … and the 14 armed groups, we have secured a #peace agreement today in the interest of the people of #CAR,” African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui tweeted.
#Centrafrique: I am humbled to announce that with the exemplary cooperation I received from both the Government of the CAR(@GouvCF) and the 14 armed groups, we have secured a #peace agreement today in the interest of the people of #CAR. #AfricanInitiative pic.twitter.com/depHqmN8n5
— Amb. Smail Chergui (@AU_Chergui) February 2, 2019
“I am determined to work with the head of state and his government to implement the responses to the concerns of the brothers who had taken up arms,” Firmin Ngrebada, head of the government delegation said, the United Nations mission Minusca tweeted.
“We are happy a consensus has been reached on sticking points which were an amnesty [for militia fighters] and an inclusive government,” said Aboubakar Sidik, spokesperson for one of the largest ex-Seleka armed groups, the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic (FPRC).
“Amnesty or no amnesty, what matters to us is peace. The other considerations are secondary. Our concern is this newfound peace and the cohabitation that can be found,” FPRC spokesperson Abacar Sabone said, RJDH reported.
“Peace triumphed, the people won after the conclusion of this very crucial agreement for the future of the CAR,” anti-balaka spokesperson Béranger Igor Ludovic said.
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 on January 24 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.
Under Western pressure, CAR’s government has always refused pardons for warlords, several of whom are under U.N. sanctions or cited for human rights violations in U.N. reports.
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” at the time, including the demand for a general amnesty. Five human rights organizations united in opposition to an amnesty.
The peace initiative has not stopped the violence, In January, ex-Seleka Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (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.
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 signed 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