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Africa

Fears of arms race in CAR as armed groups fight government

media A Cameroonian soldier patrols in the Central African Republic capital Bangui, during a peacekeeping operation FP PHOTO / REINNIER KAZE

An arms race is building between armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) and government forces, according to a new report by a US-based NGO. It warns that a build up in weapons could lead to an escalation in sectarian violence, bloodier than ever before.

“What we’ve seen since 2018 (...) is that ex-Seleka [Islamic mil:itias] factions are now joining forces, because they are seeing the CAR government getting stronger, and this is a threat," says Nathalia Dukhan, author of The Enough Project's new report: Shifting Alliances, Foreign Interference: Mapping the Web of Armed Groups in the Central African Republic.

The threat began when Russia entered the picture in November last year, authorised by the United Nations to supply weapons to CAR’s new EU-trained army.

"As the rebel groups see the government increase its military power, they will also try and maintain their position and increase their military power," Dukhan told RFI.

This perceived threat has led to new alliances being formed between former foes, with Seleka Muslim groups joining anti-Balaka Christian factions.

Diamonds and gold

Yet these alliances are purely opportunistic, driven by a thirst for power, explains Dukhan.

“Diamond and gold is one of their main sources of income, and a central reason for their local fights and rivalry," she says. "But it’s not just mining, it’s also pastoralism."

Farmers, like miners, are having to pay money to the different armed groups. Raising taxes and controlling mining revenues are key to their survival.

The money collected is "transformed into arms to kill”, comments Dukhan, saying that the armed groups then turn to Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo to buy weapons.

In this context, the recent decision by France to sell weapons to the army to help build its capacity, has come under scrutiny.

"It’s certainly not a good idea, because armed groups continue to be able to obtain arms in the region," warns Dukhan.

UN unable to restore peace

"This is of course a tricky issue to bring arms into a conflict," reckons Florent Geel, Africa Director of the International Federation of Human Rights.

"But at the same time, the Central African Republic needs to rebuild its own army to face rebels and armed groups," he told RFI.

"Hundreds of civilians are killed because of a lack of capacity of the UN to bring back security. "

An attack in May against a Roman Catholic church in the capital Bangui, underscored just how volatile the security situation is.

At least 16 people were killed and 99 others injured when men allied with the Seleka, whose takeover of Bangui five years ago set off the country’s continuing conflict, stormed the Notre Dame de Fatima church.

"The Central African authorities have a right to protect themselves," continues Geel. "It's their country, they have a right to try to reestablish securit, but not in any manner and under any circumstances."

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