By EDITH M. LEDERER
2014-06-25 09:01 AM
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The conflict-torn Central African Republic is experiencing a dangerous spiral of attacks and reprisals and a radicalization of Christian and Muslim militias, the U.N. envoy to the impoverished country said Tuesday.
Babacar Gaye told the U.N. Security Council by videoconference from the capital, Bangui, that this risks having the situation in the country "fester."
Central African Republic has been in turmoil since an alliance of Muslim rebel groups known as the Seleka overthrew the longtime president in March 2013. They quickly became despised by Christians in the capital after Muslim fighters went on looting sprees, raping and killing civilians at random. An armed Christian movement known as the anti-Balaka, aided by the ex-president's loyalists, began retaliating several months later, sparking sectarian bloodshed.
Seleka was forced from power in January, a transitional government has been established and about 2,000 French troops and nearly 5,000 African peacekeepers are trying to stabilize the country, which is about the size of Texas. But the violence continues, and tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to the north or to neighboring countries.
The U.N. Security Council authorized a nearly 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force for Central African Republic in April, but it will not take over from the African troops until Sept. 15.
Gaye, the U.N. special representative, said violations of human rights and international humanitarian law continue to be committed by all armed groups and civilians who possess weapons, and the need to protect civilians is "enormous."
Over half a million people remain displaced and half the population needs humanitarian assistance, he said.
Gaye said the political situation "has deteriorated noticeably over the past month," with growing criticism of the transitional government's inability to improve security.
This risks undermining the authority of a government that is already struggling to govern the country without its own security forces and financial means, he said.
"At the same time, the political elite is deeply divided, and there is a high level of political and social antagonism and distrust among political actors and between communities," Gaye said. "This does not bode well for the holding of credible elections early next year."
He said disarmament and an inclusive political dialogue are essential steps to achieve lasting security.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of UN Women who visited the Central African Republic last month with her counterpart from the African Union, told the council that "what we heard and what we saw was terrifying."
"In displacement camps all over the country, including the one we visited, the situation is desperate," she said. "People seek shelter under tarpulins or even pieces of cloth in inhumane conditions, surrounded by dirty puddles of stagnant water and garbage, vulnerable to waterborne diseases."
Mlambo-Ngcuka cited numerous reports of rape, sexual slavery and early and forced marriage.
Many girls and women have become pregnant, miscarried or contracted sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, she said, and 90 percent of camps for the displaced have no medical or psychosocial services for survivors of gender-based violence.
In almost every camp, Mlambo-Ngcuka said, "there are an untold number of pregnant women who do not have access to basic reproductive and obstetric care."