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UN envoy wants transparency over C. Africa arms imports

United Nations Special Representative for the Central African Republic Parfait Onanga-Anyanga (R) is calling for more transparency on arms flowing into the country © AFP/File / ALEXIS HUGUET

United Nations, United States, Sep 27 – A top UN envoy called Thursday for transparency on arms flowing into the Central African Republic from Russia, China or the United States, urging diplomatic “coherence” as Moscow seeks a larger role in the war-torn sub-Saharan country.

In an interview with AFP, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the UN special representative for the Central African Republic, whose term expires at the end of the year, said he felt “a measured, but definite hope” for the country, even as armed groups who covet its natural wealth still clash on the ground.

President Faustin-Archange Touadera controls only a fraction of CAR, most of it overrun by militants who claim to protect either the Christian or Muslim communities.

Touadera, addressing the annual UN General Assembly, urged a complete lifting of the arms embargo on the country.

Onanga-Anyanga said that the need for weapons was “undeniable” as the government builds its own armed forces to the tune of 1,300 new troops a year through 2023.

Russia has already received an exemption. “China, but also the United States, have proposed new quantities of weapons,” Onanga-Anyanga said. “It’s for a good reason.”

European trainers of Central African troops have themselves backed the increased flow of weapons, he said.

“It’s dangerous to have trained men loafing around all day. If they aren’t under supervision and put to use, they risk being drawn back to the demons of the past and returning to predation,” Onanga-Anyanga said.

He also acknowledged the “need for the clearest transparency.” The United Nations has just verified, with the defense ministry and Russia, weapons deliveries by Russia.

He said that the head of the UN sanctions committee would travel on October 2 to Bangui to “examine the needs and make sure that these transactions are in line with the positions of the Security Council.”

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– Risking diplomatic ‘cacophony’ –

Thousands of people have died, 700,000 have been internally displaced and another 570,000 have fled abroad in fighting since 2013, when majority-Muslim militias toppled longtime leader Francois Bozize, a Christian.

Russia, in addition to sending weapons, has proposed mediating with CAR rebels and held a meeting in Sudan with armed groups, in a sign of Moscow’s growing post-Cold War ambitions in Africa.

Former colonial ruler France has rejected the Russian initiative, saying that there was “no alternative” to the process led by the African Union.

“There must absolutely be coordination among partners,” the envoy said of the political mediation.

“For it to be constructive, everyone needs to have the same vision and approach,” he said.

“Solitary, non-coordinated moves could create a real cacophony.”

President Touadera, speaking to reporters Thursday after talks at the United Nations, said that Russia’s role was only one of “facilitation.”

“We’re working to hold an upcoming dialogue with armed groups to seek peace and reconciliation,” he said.

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Smail Chergui, who heads the peace and security commission of the African Union, called Russia’s Khartoum meeting “complementary” and said it would “not replace the African initiative.”

The UN stabilization force in Central Africa has 12,000 troops and 2,000 police officers.

Nearly a year ago, the UN Security Council authorized boosting the number by 900 military personnel, although Onanga-Anyanga admitted that the level had not yet been reached.

He said that troops from Rwanda and Nepal had arrived but did not yet have equipment in place.

Since its establishment in 2014, the UN peacekeeping force known by its French acronym MINUSCA has witnessed the deaths of 70 soldiers.


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