, United Nations, United States, Oct 19 – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is traveling to the Central African Republic next week to draw attention to the world’s “forgotten crisis” and its heavy toll on aid workers and UN peacekeepers.
“The Central African Republic is very far from the attention of the international community,” Guterres told AFP and Radio France Internationale in an interview on Wednesday.
“The level of suffering of the people but also the trauma suffered by aid workers and peacekeepers are deserving of our solidarity and heightened attention,” he said.
Guterres will be in Bangui on Tuesday for United Nations Day, which marks the entry into force of the UN charter, and will also travel to Bangassou in the south, where heavy fighting broke out in May.
“This is a gesture of solidarity with the peacekeepers working in one of the most dangerous environments,” he said.
Renewed clashes in the Central African Republic have pitted armed groups who are competing for control of natural resources and areas of influence while claiming to protect communities.
The fighting has involved mostly Christian militias and groups linked to the mainly Muslim Seleka coalition.
Since the beginning of the year, 12 aid workers and 12 peacekeepers have been killed in CAR, which shows “just how much the situation has deteriorated,” said Guterres.
While some UN officials have raised alarm over “early warning signs of genocide” in CAR, Guterres said there was “ethnic cleansing” in many parts of the country.
To quell the violence, Guterres singled out religious leaders as having an “absolutely indispensable role” to play by drawing Christian and Muslim communities away from the fighting.
– Beefing up UN mission –
The worsening violence stems from “armed groups who received external support,” he said, without elaborating. “Hate speech has surfaced in the statements of many community leaders.”
Guterres will also meet with victims of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers as part of his effort to address damaging allegations that have hit the blue helmets in several missions.
MINUSCA faces one of the highest number of rape allegations of all UN missions, prompting Guterres earlier this year to agree to the withdrawal of a contingent from Congo Republic which had faced several accusations.
Now, faced with the upsurge of violence, the UN chief is asking the Security Council to beef up the mission with 900 extra troops, even though the United States is pushing for cost-cutting measures in peacekeeping.
“There is a need to increase the capacity of our troops in Central African Republic to protect civilians,” Guterres told reporters.
“I am convinced there will be a positive understanding by all the members of the Security Council including the United States in relation to this.”
The council will decide next month whether to approve the additional troops for MINUSCA, which currently has some 12,000 peacekeepers.
The Central African Republic descended into violence after the 2013 overthrow of longtime leader Francois Bozize by the Seleka alliance.
France intervened militarily to push out the Seleka and the United Nations launched its peacekeeping mission in 2014, but the country remains plagued by violence.
The conflict has driven more than 600,00 people from their homes internally while an additional 500,000 have crossed borders to become refugees. Half of the population, or 2.4 million Central Africans, are in need of aid.