CAFOD, Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid and the Muslim Charities Forum warn that the current international peace-keeping forces on the ground in Central African Republic (CAR) need more support to tackle the violence engulfing the country.
CAFOD’s Catherine Mahony and members of British Muslim charities have recently returned from CAR, having witnessed for themselves the insecurity caused by the continuing cycle of retaliatory violence.
She said: “Lawlessness and violence is rife across the country, both between armed groups as well as in frequent targeted attacks on civilians. People are fleeing in fear of further violence, and crime and banditry is on the increase. Many people have been raped or tortured, and fighters facing no law enforcement have looted schools, hospitals, government buildings and civilian homes.”
Last month the UN Security Council agreed to send a 12,000 strong peacekeeping force but this is not due to arrive in September. But the aid agencies fear that in the interim the current international peace keepers are not well enough equipped to halt the spiralling violence.
Imran Madden, Head of Humanitarian at Islamic Relief, said: "The roles of the international peace-keepers currently on the ground are pivotal between now and the arrival of the UN peacekeeping force. However, they are under-equipped and under-resourced on virtually every level and unable to adequately protect the lives of civilians."
Local Christian and Muslim aid workers are doing all they can in extremely difficult circumstances to get aid to those in need, but lack of security leaves them vulnerable to attack.
Ute Theobald, Emergency Programmes Manager at Muslim Aid, said: “We are deeply concerned by all attacks on aid workers who are providing life-saving support to the poorest and most vulnerable communities. It is vital that aid workers are allowed to do their work and peacekeepers are able to ensure their security”
Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui – President of CAFOD partner Caritas Central African Republic, and Imam Kobine Layama - the country's senior Muslim leader, are members of an inter-faith platform, who have travelled across the country to promote peace between communities. On a recent visit to Europe, including London, they urged governments to find practical ways to improve security, while the country waits for the UN peacekeepers.
The Archbishop said: “We welcome the Security Council’s unanimous decision to establish a UN Peacekeeping Operation in the CAR, where ethnic cleansing is rife and the lives of thousands are at risk. However as the force will only be deployed by September at the earliest we urge that strong and immediate support be given to the current regional peace-keeping force in order to improve security at this crucial time.”
While Imam Kobine Layama commented that the lessons of Rwanda teach us today that there must a political will to stop the violence and work towards peace and reconciliation, he said: "The lesson from Rwanda is that a lack of political will and political engagement can lead to catastrophe. It is essential that the Security Council remains actively engaged on CAR and that this resolution is only part of a long term strategy to bring peace to our country”.
The aid agencies are also calling for more support to be given to Catherine Samba-Panza's transitional government to address the root causes of the conflict and to lead a peace and reconciliation process.
Central African Republic has been in crisis since a coalition of rebel groups known as Seleka seized power in March 2013. In December, militias known as ‘Anti-balaka’ launched a series of counterattacks, often targeting the minority Muslim population.