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Clerics urge review of UN strategy ahead of Guterres visit

October 24, 2017 4:35 AM
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In Central Africa Clerics urge review of UN strategy ahead of Guterres visit

Guterres is expected on Tuesday, ahead of a requested renewal in November of the UN force in CAR, called MINUSCA, which has been accused by some of passivity.

"If they're just television spectators of the conflict, that won't do," Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the Catholic archbishop of Bangui said in a joint interview on Saturday alongside the country's Muslim and Protestant leaders.

"A revision of strategy" has to go hand-in-hand with a mandate for UN troop renewal, said Protestant leader Nicolas Guerekoyamene-Gbangou.

Poor but mineral-rich, CAR has become a byword for conflict and misery.

Thousands have lost their lives and half a million people have been displaced, according to the UN, out of a population of roughly 4.5 million.

In their interview with AFP, the religious leaders pleaded with the world not to see the conflict as a matter of religion, but of gangs who often exploited faith to further their own goals.

In 2013, CAR's then president Francois Bozize, a Christian former army chief, was overthrown by a pro-Muslim Seleka rebel coalition.

Militias known as "anti-balaka" launched a counter-offensive in the name of defending the Christian majority population.

"The religious stance has been used only for political ends, for looting and for making off with the (mineral) riches beneath the soil," said Oumar Kobine Layama, head of the Islamic Conference in CAR.

In the southeastern town of Bangassou, where anti-balaka forces unleashed a new wave of violence in May, MINUSCA troops "made all the Muslims come to the mosque and abandoned them," Kobine said.

"If the cardinal and the bishop hadn't come to protect them, what would have become of them. Who would have been responsible?"

The imam added: "Christians and Muslims are now together at the displaced persons' site. If this was really a war of religions, would they be in the same place?"

Those who kill in the name of Christianity are beyond the pale, said Guerekoyame-Gbangou.

At Kembe in the southeast, the anti-balaka in October attacked "a place that's a sanctuary in usual times, a mosque," he said.

"They can't say they're Christians and go on to kill. All those with such ideas in their heads are outside their faith."

In 2013, the three leaders set up a "platform of religious confessions" in a show of inter-faith unity and to act as a mediator in the conflict.

The "platform" earned the UN Human Rights Prize in 2015, but at some personal cost to their founders. Kobine has been forced to move house and relatives of Guerekoyame-Gbangou were killed in 2015.

Guterres' four-day stay in CAR will be his first visit since taking office on January 1, although he regularly visited the country as former head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

He will go Bangui and Bangassou and also meet 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.

The secretary general's visit comes at a time when the United Nations faces a precarious financial situation, as the United States pushes for cost-cutting measures in peacekeeping.

The international body has maintained some 12,500 troops and police on the ground in CAR since September 2014 to help protect civilians and support the government of Faustin-Archange Touadera, who was elected last year.

The force's mandate expires on November 15. On October 18, Guterres urged the Security Council to add 900 troops, to enable the force "to shape and influence security situations, rather than react to them."


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