In the wake of agreements reached Friday to end a rebellion in the Central African Republic (CAR), the United Nations envoy for the country said that the international community now needs to engage more forcefully, both diplomatically and financially, to pull the CAR from the brink.
"The security is fundamental to peace and development; the CAR requires a functional and effective army and security forces, the government has to be present in all parts of the CAR," the Secretary-General´s Special Representative and Head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in CAR (BINUCA), Margaret Vogt, told a meeting of the world body´s Security Council.
"We are hopeful that the agreements that were signed today in Libreville will contain the immediate flare-up and will calm the situation in the CAR," Vogt said. "However, failure to go further to discuss the reasons for the lack of implementation of previous agreements and to correct these may lead to another meltdown, a few years down the line again, as a result of lost expectations and frustration."
The CAR has a history of political instability and recurring armed conflict. State authority is weak in many parts of the country.
Ethnic tensions in the north, rebel activity and the presence of members of the armed Ugandan group known as the Lord´s Resistance Army (LRA) have added to insecurity and instability in CAR, which has caused significant internal displacement.
Most recently, the country has been dealing with the impact of armed rebel groups which had threatened to march on the capital.
Following attacks on several towns in the country´s north-east, an alliance of rebel groups - made up of the Convention Patriotique pour le Salut du Kodro, the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix Centrafrique, the Union des Forces De'mocratiques pour le Rassemblement and the Front De'mocratique du Peuple Centrafricain and known, collectively, as ´Se'le'ka´ - had been advancing on the capital, Bangui, in late December before agreeing to start peace talks this past week in the Gabonese capital of Libreville, under the auspices of the regional group known as the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
Vogt was briefing the Council via video-teleconference from Libreville, where she has been in close dialogue with the key parties and provided support to the negotiations.
"The Se'le'ka coalition took control of a number of towns without much resistance from the national army. The failure of the national army to repel this aggression is indicative of the depth of decay within the armed forces," Vogt said.
"The army had lost cohesion and the will to fight; many of the soldiers simply dropped their weapons and melted into the bush. Within a few weeks almost half of the prefectures in the territory had come under rebel control."
Meeting in the Chadian capital of N´Djamena in mid-December, regional leaders agreed to deploy troops to help bolster the CAR military and provide protection. However, with the rebels only hours away from Bangui, the United Nations and other international bodies temporarily re-located staff members due to security concerns.
Both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council had condemned the rebel attacks and called on them to halt hostilities.
They also called on both the Government and the rebels to resolve the current crisis through dialogue, and to abide by the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was signed by the Government and the three main rebel groups and which helped bring an end to existing conflicts inside the CAR.
Amidst the developments in December, Vogt embarked on an intensive diplomatic effort, together with the African Union, to engage with the parties, the Government, the rebel groups and political parties and civil society members.
"I also travelled to Brazzaville on two occasions, to consult with President Sassou Nguessou on how he wanted to structure the peace talks in Libreville. I offered to the President the full technical support of the UN as well as our political advice," the UN envoy told the Council members, noting that she also worked with staff from the UN Standby Mediation Team, which helped to structure mediation efforts, advised on the process, as well as helped draft a declaration of principles, a draft ceasefire agreement and other analytical documents.
The peace talks led to three agreements being signed: one was a declaration of principles to resolve the political and security crisis, another was a ceasefire agreement, and the last was an agreement on the political-security situation, with the latter defining the power-sharing arrangements and the period of political transition in the CAR.
In her remarks to the Council, Vogt summarized the agreements´ key points as: President Bozize' remains in power; a Prime Minister from the opposition, with full executive power, is to be appointed; a Government of National Unity with representatives of all stakeholders that took part in the talks is to be established; a bill on the new Electoral Code and the National Authority for Elections will be adopted before the National Assembly is dissolved; legislative elections will be organized within 12 months; a new follow-up mechanism is to be established to ensure full implementation of the provisions of the agreement reached.
Considering the reasons behind the rebellion, the UN envoy made note of reports of dissension within the armed forces and of deep division among the political leadership, partly engendered by rumours that the President planned to change the constitution to remain in power beyond the end of his constitutional mandate, in 2016.
"The rise of active rebellion may not be unconnected to the frustration of some who had nursed succession ambitions," she said, while also noting that attempts at disarming the armed groups in such a vast, sparsely populated area can "only be successful through a regional approach, involving the neighbours of the CAR."
As part of the UN´s effort to support the national and regional efforts involving CAR, the Special Representative said that it was clear that BINUCA and the overall UN presence in the CAR would have to re-evaluate their priorities and capacities to enable them be more effective partners in the implementation of these agreements and development plans.
"We intend to recommend that BINUCA leads a strategic assessment to review our priorities and to redefine our needs," Vogt said. "BINUCA should be able to support these efforts and civilian capacities should be deployed. All these will require international accompaniment and generous funding."
In a press statement issued later Friday, the members of the Security Council welcomed the negotiations held in Libreville between Jan 8-11, as well as the signature of the three agreements on the resolution of the recent crisis.
"The members of the Security Council emphasized the necessity of an expeditious implementation of these agreements and called on all parties to implement them in good faith. They underlined the role of the bodies in charge of following up their implementation. They stressed that all the parties should be committed to building lasting peace in CAR," the statement added.
The Council members commended the efforts of ECCAS, the African Union and countries in the region to solve the crisis, and expressed their support for Vogt´s efforts.
They also urged all parties to allow safe and unhindered access to people in need of humanitarian assistance as quickly as possible, and called for the immediate release of all civilians being held by armed groups.
In addition, the Council members emphasized that human rights violations - such as the targeting of ethnic minorities, the recruitment and use of children, and sexual and gender-based violence - must cease immediately and that those responsible for such violations should be held accountable.
Separately on Friday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that it is seeking immediate and unconditional access to tens of thousands of refugees and CAR civilians displaced by the recent fighting
"We believe that these civilians face deteriorating living conditions and that they need urgent and potentially life-saving help," a UNHCR spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, said in a news briefing in Geneva.
"It is impossible to give precise figures for the number of newly displaced because of the fluid security situation and lack of access to rebel-held areas, but we have received reports of thousands of people being displaced in the north and east since the start of the Se'le'ka advance about a month ago," he continued. "About 800,000 people were believed to be living in the affected areas when the current crisis erupted."
The spokesperson said the UN refugee agency is "extremely concerned" about the general welfare of displaced civilians, many of whom live under harsh conditions and in remote settlements, as well as of refugees from countries including South Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
CAR hosts some 17,000 refugees and some 2,500 asylum-seekers. "We call on all sides to respect the human rights of all civilians and to allow humanitarian access to them," Edwards added.