Central African Republic arms embargo eased by UN

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday, September 12 unanimously approved the easing of an arms embargo on the Central African Republic for the first time since 2013 when it was engulfed in violence.

Drafted by U.N penholder France, the resolution authorizes the country’s security forces including state civilian law enforcement institutions to be supplied with weapons of a calibre of 14.5 mm or less, provided that the U.N. has been notified at least 20 days in advance.

The notifications must specify the type, calibre, quantity and serial or lot numbers of the weapons as well as the manufacturer and supplier.

Under no circumstances can the weapons be sold or transferred to third parties, according to the resolution.

Supplies of non-lethal equipment and assistance to the security forces, or intended solely for humanitarian or protective use are exempted from the embargo.

The U.N. sanctions committee can also approve supplies of other arms and lethal equipment and related materiel.

“This resolution will allow for … CAR to take care of their own security,” France’s ambassador to the U.N. Nicolas de Riviere told reporters. “France will continue to encourage the authorities of CAR to do their own job in terms of implementing the peace process.”

Russia, which has already made two deliveries of weapons to the Central African Republic and provides it with “military and technical assistance without financial compensation,” plans to continue “in the future to provide support” to this country, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council.

“The Central African authorities expect more from the Security Council, including a new easing of the arms embargo,” he added. “We think they have every reason to expect this.”

He said a further relaxation of the embargo could be discussed at a meeting planned for January.

“It remains to be seen when there can be a further easing,” said another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The hope is there won’t be too many weapons entering the country, especially weapons the state cannot control.”

“The number of weapons entering the country must correspond to real needs,” the diplomat added.

Arms transfers embargoed since 2013

Since 2013, the U.N. has enforced a total arms embargo, but the government has repeatedly called for the restrictions to be lifted to allow arms supplies to shore up its security forces fighting militias that control much of the country.

Then-U.N. special envoy to the CAR Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said in September 2018 that the need for weapons was “undeniable” as the Central African Republic government builds its armed forces, but urged transparency in the flow of arms.

The U.N. sanctions committee has previously approved shipments of weapons to equip newly formed army units. The committee is tasked with ensuring that imported weapons do not end up in the hands of the militias in the corruption-prone country.

In 2017, the embargo was lifted to allow delivery of 1,700 Russian weapons for the country’s Armed Forces (FACa), and in December 2018, France handed over 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and three amphibious vehicles.

Russia’s then-Ambassador to CAR Sergey Lebanov said in September 2018 that a second shipment of Russian arms and ammunition was “in preparation,” and would be delivered once approved by the Security Council. Last month, new Ambassador Vladimir said that the second shipment of arms including basic weapons and ammunition had arrived in CAR.

Central African Republic troops give a demonstration
Central African Republic troops give a demonstration of their skills at a ceremony to mark the completion of training of the latest group of CAR’s armed forces by Russian advisors, September 17, 2018. Image:

Russia has stepped up its presence in the Central African Republic, training troopsbrokering peace talks with militias, and providing security and advice to President Faustin-Archange Touadera, sparking tensions with France, the former colonial power.

Titorenko said in August that Russian have trained at least 2,700 FACa personnel.

In August 2018, Russia signed a military cooperation agreement with CAR offering the possibility for Central African officers and NCOs to be trained in Russian military schools.

The European Union also trains Central African military personnel. In July 2018, the bloc extended EUTM-RCA until 2020, pledging €25 million ($29 million) to help reform the country’s defense sector. The scope of the mission was also modified to give strategic advice to the president’s cabinet, interior ministry and police, as well as the military.

France, Belgium, China and the U.S. have all supplied equipment for CAR’s military, but that equipment is understood not to include weaponry.

In June 2018, France, the U.S. and the United Kingdom put a hold on a request from Central African Republic for U.N. Security Council approval of weapons shipments from China.

MINUSCA Joint Patrol with FACA
Central African Armed Forces (FACA) personnel conducting joint patrols with peacekeepers from the UN’s MINUSCA Force in Bangassou, in the Mbomou prefecture in the south-east of the Central African Republic , August 1, 2018. Image: UN Photo

A divided country

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.

By the end of 2014, CAR was de facto partitioned – anti-balaka in the southwest and ex-Seleka in the northeast.

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.

In February, CAR’s government reached a peace agreement with 14 armed groups that led to the formation of a new government that includes representatives of the groups.

With reporting from AFP

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