BANGUI, Central African Republic, Nov 1 – Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the United Nations to boost security forces in the Central African Republic, a day after France ended its peacekeeping mission in the strife-torn country.
The UN force MINUSCA has been left alone to combat militias terrorising civilians now that France has wrapped up its Sangaris operation in its troubled former colony.
“The UN should urgently deploy more of the mission’s forces to the volatile central region, expand their patrols and, consistent with the mission’s mandate, use appropriate force to protect civilians under imminent threat,” HRW said.
The shutdown of the French operation came just hours after around 10 people were killed in clashes between armed groups in the capital Bangui on Sunday.
Both MINUSCA and HRW published reports over the last couple of days documenting the aftermath of an attack last month in the town of Kaga-Bandoro by Muslim Seleka rebels that left at least 37 people dead and 57 wounded.
HRW said witnesses to the October 12 attack claimed 200 UN peacekeepers “failed to stop at least 60 Seleka forces from crossing a UN-guarded bridge and attacking civilians”, although it noted that the peacekeepers later “opened fire and killed 12 Seleka”.
In its own report on Monday, though, MINUSCA claimed to have taken “strong measures to protect civilians and establish a weapon-free zone in the city and surrounding region”.
Thousands of people have been killed since the conflict in CAR erupted in 2013.
France intervened in CAR in December 2013 to help the more than 12,000 MINUSCA troops sent to stabilise the country after Muslim Seleka and Christian “anti-balaka” militias started carrying out massacres following the overthrow of then-president Francois Bozize.
At its height, there were 2,500 French troops in the country, but French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a ceremony in Bangui on Monday that only a “tactical reserve force of 350 soldiers” backed up by drones would remain.
However, many Central Africans are worried to see the French troops go.
Prominent CAR politician and former presidential candidate Anicet Georges Dologuele complained that “Sangaris is pulling out far too early”.
“Our security forces are not ready to take over,” he added. “The UN forces are more and more overwhelmed.”