UN refugee agency 'extremely worried' about renewed violence in Central African Republic

30 June 2017 &#150 The United Nations refugee agency has voiced concern over a flow of people fleeing renewed violence in some parts of the Central African Republic, a country that has already seen a half million people internally displaced and another half million taking refuge in neighbouring countries.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) &#8220is extremely worried over the resurgence of violence being seen in parts of the Central African Republic,&#8221 said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at today’s press briefing in Geneva.

He said renewed violence has erupted in the towns of Zemio, Bria and Kaga Bandaro in southern and northern CAR as clashes are reported between self-defence groups and other armed groups. Civilians and humanitarian workers are also being targeted.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country of 4.5 million people into civil conflict in 2013. Violence in CAR has uprooted some 503,600 people inside the country, including more than 100,000 in 2017, and more than 484,000 have been registered as refugees in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Chad and the Republic of Congo.

Mr. Mahecic noted that in Zemio, close to the border with the DRC, UNHCR workers have reported intense heavy weapons fire since Tuesday. Some houses close to UNHCR’s office were burnt down. Over 1,000 people have fled their homes. Many are seeking refuge in a Catholic church in the town, while some 66 people have sought safety in the UNHCR compound &#8211 among them terrified women and children in fear of their lives, he added.

In the town of Bria, several hundred kilometres northeast of the capital, Bangui, clashes were reported on June 20 that continued for three consecutive days, he said.

Reports suggest a camp hosting some 2,400 internally displaced people in the Ndourou IV district is now completely empty with its whole population having fled the recent attacks.

Indiscriminate attacks in Bria have left some 136 people dead and 36 wounded, with 600 houses burned and an additional 180 looted.

In a separate incident, unidentified armed men tried to break into UNHCR accommodation in Kaga Bandaro in the north of the country on Wednesday night with the intention of attacking staff and looting belongings. The attack was thwarted by the UN peacekeeping forces there.

UNHCR teams were able to distribute relief items including plastic sheets, blankets, mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, buckets and soap to more than 5000 households in accessible parts of Bria over the past three weeks – despite the fragile security situation.

&#8220UNHCR renews its call on all parties to the conflict in the area to immediately end attacks against civilians and aid workers. UNHCR is also seeking immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to assist those affected by the recent wave of violence,&#8221 Mr. Mahecic said.

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UN refugee agency ‘extremely worried’ about renewed violence in Central African Republic

The United Nations refugee agency has voiced concern over a flow of people fleeing renewed violence in some parts of the Central African Republic, a country that has already seen a half million people internally displaced and another half million taking refuge in neighbouring countries.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is extremely worried over the resurgence of violence being seen in parts of the Central African Republic, said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at today’s press briefing in Geneva.

He said renewed violence has erupted in the towns of Zemio, Bria and Kaga Bandaro in southern and northern CAR as clashes are reported between self-defence groups and other armed groups. Civilians and humanitarian workers are also being targeted.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country of 4.5 million people into civil conflict in 2013. Violence in CAR has uprooted some 503,600 people inside the country, including more than 100,000 in 2017, and more than 484,000 have been registered as refugees in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Chad and the Republic of Congo.

Mr. Mahecic noted that in Zemio, close to the border with the DRC, UNHCR workers have reported intense heavy weapons fire since Tuesday. Some houses close to UNHCR’s office were burnt down. Over 1,000 people have fled their homes. Many are seeking refuge in a Catholic church in the town, while some 66 people have sought safety in the UNHCR compound � among them terrified women and children in fear of their lives, he added.

In the town of Bria, several hundred kilometres northeast of the capital, Bangui, clashes were reported on June 20 that continued for three consecutive days, he said.

Reports suggest a camp hosting some 2,400 internally displaced people in the Ndourou IV district is now completely empty with its whole population having fled the recent attacks.

Indiscriminate attacks in Bria have left some 136 people dead and 36 wounded, with 600 houses burned and an additional 180 looted.

In a separate incident, unidentified armed men tried to break into UNHCR accommodation in Kaga Bandaro in the north of the country on Wednesday night with the intention of attacking staff and looting belongings. The attack was thwarted by the UN peacekeeping forces there.

UNHCR teams were able to distribute relief items including plastic sheets, blankets, mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, buckets and soap to more than 5000 households in accessible parts of Bria over the past three weeks – despite the fragile security situation.

UNHCR renews its call on all parties to the conflict in the area to immediately end attacks against civilians and aid workers. UNHCR is also seeking immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to assist those affected by the recent wave of violence, Mr. Mahecic said.

Source: UN News Centre

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Peace is Breaking Out in Colombia

Colombia marked a major milestone this week in ending its 52 year-long conflict with FARC when the UN certified disarmament of the rebel group as complete. This is a step — and a very consequential one — toward an enduring peace for the country.

Still, despite this accomplishment, the road to a lasting peace is still quite long–with some big obstacles in the way.

On its own, the Colombian peace process is a mammoth undertaking, achieved after four years of negotiations. After announcing a deal last August, the peace process hit a stumbling block early on when a slim majority of Colombians voted against it in an October referendum. Further negotiations resulted in a slightly modified agreement, which the government sent to Congress for ratification rather than hold a second referendum. With ratification in late November, the 52 year conflict between the government and FARC formally ended.

But accepting a peace agreement and implementing it are two different things. Despite an indefinite ceasefire, disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating thousands of fighters, many of whom know nothing but war, into the society they fought against is a significant task. That is why news from the UN that it successfully collected weapons from all of FARC’s 7,000 fighters is such a big deal. Even though the fighters will stay in demobilization camps until July, by giving up their weapons FARC is turning a corner that would be extremely difficult to walk back from.

Guns turned over to the UN. Credit: UN Mission in Colombia

At a ceremony marking the disarmament, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said, “The laying down of arms is a symbol of the new country that we can be.” FARC’s top leader Rodrigo Londoño – better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko – echoed this sentiment in his own speech. “Farewell to arms, farewell to war, welcome to peace,” he said to a cheering crowd of demobilized fighters. “Today doesn’t end the existence of the FARC; it ends our armed struggle.”

Yet beyond this week’s well deserved celebrations, there is still a lot of work to do. As part of reintegrating members of FARC into Colombian society, one key element of the peace agreement is the establishment of special courts to try former FARC fighters. Those not accused of war crimes can be eligible for amnesty while others can receive reduced sentences for their crimes under certain circumstances. But the government has yet to actually establish any of these courts or judicial mechanisms. With an estimated 3,400 FARC fighters in jail, the delay is a sore point for FARC while critics of the peace agreement – including former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe – believe that FARC fighters are being treated too leniently given the extent of their crimes.

The perception that many FARC fighters are getting off too easy for their crimes is one of the reasons analysts believe the October referendum on the peace deal failed; by going around the public and seeking ratification through Congress, the government avoided having to substantially address or change this element of the peace agreement.

That decision may come back to haunt President Santos. In May, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled against the government on the “fast track” provisions included in the peace agreement that allows for special legislative authority to implement parts of the deal. The fear is this will allow Congress to see the negotiated provisions of the peace agreement as mere “suggestions” and unwind key parts of the agreement that took years of negotiation to agree on. Following the court’s ruling, many groups throughout the political spectrum raised alarm bells on what it could mean for the peace process. So far the process has endured, but is still at risk for political sabotage in coming months, a stated goal of some of the peace agreement’s fiercest critics.

As the largest rebel group in the country, reaching an agreement with FARC was a necessary step towards peace but FARC is not the only militant group still in Colombia.

Although less than half the size of FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN) shares a common history dating back to 1964. Unlike FARC, the ELN resisted several attempts by the Santos government for peace talks. After several delays, formal talks did start in February but the challenges are daunting. A few weeks after the talks started, ELN bombed a bull ring outside of Bogota that killed 1 and injured 25 more. Just this month, ELN claimed responsibility for a bombing at an upscale shopping mall that killed 3 and a bombing that stopped the flow of oil in Colombia’s second largest pipeline. With no indication that they are willing to give up violence, peace with the country’s last major leftist guerilla group appears out of reach for now.

On the other side of the political spectrum is the issue of right-wing paramilitary groups. Also a long standing part of the Colombian conflict, the main paramilitary group the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) only partially demobilized under former President Uribe, leading to the creation of “succession” paramilitary groups that are filling the vacuum of control now left vacant by FARC. In some areas, the amount of violence experienced has actually increased as FARC demobilized. The largest of these succession groups, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), recently declared human rights defenders as legitimate military targets and local news organizations have tracked as at least 37 civil society leaders killed in 2017 alone.

Efforts to combat the paramilitary groups is complicated by the historical ties many Colombian politicians have with the groups. There is the concern that politicians opposed to the peace agreement with FARC can use these paramilitary groups to further block implementation and sabotage the peace process, returning the country into full scale war. There is also some speculation that because of the close ties between mainstream politicians and the paramilitary groups, peace with them is not particularly wanted as very real and proverbial skeletons could come out of the closet in negotiations or a subsequent truth commission. Those ongoing entanglements need to be unwound before any real progress can be made.

All of this highlights how far Colombia has to go in ending decades of civil war. The disarmament of FARC is a huge accomplishment, and not one that should be underestimated. But Colombia’s problems were always more than just FARC and now the country needs to address the other outstanding issues it faces after five decades of war. Peace is not easy, but the progress Colombia has made so far is a good sign that eventually it will come to the whole country.

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