Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Central African Republic (CAR): Violence linked to Sudan and Iran


-- revelations bode ill for Christians in CAR
By Elizabeth Kendal

'The seeds are present for a genocide,' warns UNICEF goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow upon her return from a week-long visit to CAR (14 Nov 2013).

Her words echo those of Adama Dieng, the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide. As Martin Plaut reports in an article entitled, Why the threat of genocide hangs over the Central African Republic (New Statesman, 4 Nov 2013):

"The word genocide does not easily trip off the tongue of senior United Nations staff. But now it's been used by Adama Dieng, the UN special official with special responsibility to advise the UN on the prevention of genocide.  He warned that the Central African Republic (CAR) – a byword for human rights abuses for decades – is slipping towards a bloodbath. 

"'We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion,' Dieng told reporters briefing the UN Security Council on Friday [1 Nov]. 'My feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other which means that if we don't act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.'"

Fuse Lit Under Sectarian Tinderbox

Central African Republic has been spiralling into total anarchy ever since 24 March 2013, when Seleka -- an alliance of well-armed local and foreign Islamic militias -- seized control of the capital Bangui. 

For background see:

Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM), label: Central African Republic (CAR).
(RLM always gives special attention to religious dimension and impact)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) 18 September 2013
“I Can Still Smell the Dead”
The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic

Amnesty International (AI) 29 October 2013
Central African Republic: Violence of security forces now out of control
The Seleka coalition of [Islamic] armed groups has committed human rights violations on an unprecedented scale

Excerpt from the AI report can be found here: AllAfrica.com (29 Oct)
photo: Jovachi Mongonou, 9, had both legs amputated after he suffered severe shrapnel wounds when Seleka soldiers shelled a church in Bangui in April 2013.

Contrary to reports, Seleka does not rape, loot and kill indiscriminately. Rather, Seleka attacks Christians and spares Muslims. Consequently, Seleka terror has caused traditional community trust to evaporate, creating a sectarian tinderbox.

After months of terror, with no relief in sight, an organised armed response is emerging out of the mostly Christian communities of northern CAR. Most villages have long had defence militias to protect residents from bandits. Known as anti-balaka (literally anti-machete) these groups, now large and angry, are out to avenge Seleka crimes. Armed with home-made weapons and adorned with colourful fetishes / juju (occult charms), these anti-balaka militias have begun attacking not just Seleka bases, but local Muslim communities. Muslims (includes Seleka) in turn enact reprisals on Christian communities.

Seleka might be responsible for turning CAR into a sectarian tinderbox, but by attacking local Muslims -- just because they are Muslims -- the anti-balaka militias have lit a fuse. Unless the flame is quickly stamped out, then a wildfire -- i.e. genocide -- is all but guaranteed. 

The violence that engulfed Ouham prefecture in September, where some 170,000 people have been displaced, is but a foretaste of what could engulf the nation if action is not taken.

Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, spent early November travelling the region with photographer Marcus Bleasdale. Bouckaert writes: 'In the early morning of Sept. 6, anti-balaka forces working with military elements loyal to [ousted president] Bozizé carried out a series of brutal surprise and near-simultaneous attacks on Seleka bases and Muslim communities in several villages around Bossangoa, killing dozens. Muslim males, regardless of age, faced death.'

The BBC reports that on 9 September, Moustapha Mohamed's father, a village chief in nearby Bouce, was killed by a 'Christian' militia that was attacking local Muslims. Mohamed praises his Christian neighbours who alerted many Muslims that armed groups were coming after them. Subsequently, however, on the same day, Muslims organised reprisal attacks against Christians. By the time the violence had finished, at least 14 were dead (three Muslims) and some 485 homes had been burned.  Aukin Nountabaye, a priest in the Bouca diocese, narrowly escaped when Muslims stormed his church. He fled Bouca, walking for four days to reach Bangui. 

Bouckaert writes that around Bossangoa, Ouham's capital, it is possible to drive for hours without seeing a single person, on roads that are littered with bundles of belongings dropped by those fleeing for their lives. At one point Bouckaert and Bleasdale stop to tend to a crying toddler who has been separated from his parents in the chaos of flight. Fortunately his terrified and distraught parents emerge from the bush to find him.

Even in the bush it is not safe -- grave are everywhere for the displaced are stalked by infection and malaria, enemies just as merciless as Seleka.

'Those who have made it to Bossangoa,' writes Bouckaert, 'live in desperate conditions: Every structure and inch of space around the town's Catholic church -- its seminary, guest house, school, library, storage rooms, soccer pitch, and the surrounding fields -- have been taken over by displaced people, all Christians.'

On 25 October, the UNHCR put the number sheltering in the Catholic Mission at 37,000. A further 2,700 are sheltering in the hospital and 728 Muslims are holed-up in a local school. Around 1000 ethnic Fula (Muslims) have been occupying the airstrip without access to shelter, clean water, food and sanitation.

Recommended reading/viewing:

'We Live and Die Here Like Animals'
The Central African Republic has suffered a horrific collapse. But is the worst violence between the country's Muslims and Christians yet to come?
BY PETER BOUCKAERT | NOVEMBER 13, 2013

Running from Rebels (Photo essay)
A look inside the war-ravaged Central African Republic.
PHOTOS BY MARCUS BLEASDALE | NOVEMBER 13, 2013

Central African Republic: Religious tinderbox
BBC, 4 Nov 2013
includes video: The BBC's Laeila Adjovi reports from Bossangoa, where Christians have fled their homes.

'Risk of Genocide' in Central African Republic
CBN: video interview with correspondent George Thomas, 8 Nov 2013  

NEW: Unspeakable horrors in a country on the verge of genocide
Militias in the Central African Republic are slitting children's throats, razing villages and throwing young men to the crocodiles. What needs to happen before the world intervenes?
By David Smith in Bossangoa
The Guardian, Saturday 23 November 2013

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VIOLENCE LINKED TO SUDAN AND IRAN
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In July 2013, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy (7, 2013) published a report by terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky entitled: Iran and Sudan Begin Moves to Dominate Central and Western Africa.

The full report can be found here (World Tribune) and here (ISPSW Strategy Series - pdf).

For your convenience, I have republished (below) the portion that relates specifically to CAR. 

Bodansky reveals that the situation in CAR is not merely the result of a local power grab. Rather, it is a regional issue central to Sudan and Iran's plot to dominate the region and exploit its riches. The link between CAR's self-appointed president Michel Djotodia and Khartoum is strong, and Seleka includes a large contingent of Sudanese janjaweed from Darfur, Sudan, where Djotodia was radicalised. According to Bodansky, weapons for this surge into Central and Western African come from Iran, via Sudan.

Clearly there will be no quick fixes, no easy solutions. 

Furthermore, the conflict has begun to spill into Cameroon, which opens out to the gas and oil-rich Gulf of Guinea.

Tensions grow between CAR and Cameroon
By Konye Obaji Ori, The Africa Report, 19 Nov 2013
Cameroon tightens borders after CAR rebels kill two
Business Ghana, 18 Nov 2013
Cameroon says army repulses attack from Central African Republic
Defenceweb - Reuters, 18 Nov 2013

France's decision not to support the French-speaking Christian majority in CAR, but to literally stand aside as local and foreign Arabic-speaking Islamic rebels seized power in a violent coup, will prove to have been extremely short-sighted and misguided indeed -- a strategic mega-blunder for which CAR's Christians will pay a terrible price.

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Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy

Analysis by Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, July 2013

Iran and Sudan Plan and Begin to Execute Moves to Dominate Central and Western Africa


The Central African Republic has become a key player, working under Sudanese and Iranian direction, in jihadist action, geared to take advantage of the West's declining influence in Western and Central Africa, even if it challenges the interests of their traditional ally, the People's Republic of China.

Extract (to END):

The governments of Iran and Sudan are preparing for a major strategic surge into western Africa, into both the Sahel and the shores of the Gulf of Guinea.

The moves have already gained momentum and challenge Iran’s and Sudan’s major sponsor, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as well as the declining West.

The ultimate objective of this surge is to consolidate control and/or influence over this extensive region and its considerable oil, gas, uranium, and other minerals (rare metals and rare earth) reserves.
[. . .]
Meanwhile, hectic preparations were, by late June 2013, taking place in Khartoum for the escalation of the surge into western Africa. Both Iran and Sudan consider the Central African Republic (CAR) a crucial venue because the CAR permits movement westward around the chaos in Darfur and the French presence in N’Djamena. Moreover, Bangui provides quick access to the Gulf of Guinea, as well as to the sub-Sahelian east-west roadway which passes through the region’s main capitals — those which Khartoum has been recently courting — all the way to Dakar.

On June 17, President Omar Bashir of Sudan and President Michel Djotodia of the Central African Republic oversaw in Khartoum a series of secret multi-national discussions which would now facilitate a dramatic break-out westward for Sudan, Iran, the CAR and their allies.

Djotodia is the first Muslim to lead the CAR, significant since only 15 percent of the population is Muslim and most of them practice tribally-influenced offshoots of Islam. Djotodia, in contrast, was a councilor in the CAR Embassy in Sudan but based in Darfur where he was converted to Islamism-jihadism by his Sudanese hosts. He is convinced in the Sudanese tenet that a strong jihadist kernel is indispensable to ensuring the loyalty and cohesion of any revolutionary movement irrespective of its openly declared ideology or policy.

Indeed, the key internal security and intelligence positions in Djotodia’s Seleka coalition are held by fellow jihadists and their own stalwart tribal-jihadist militias. Hence, Djotodia is convinced he is beholden to Bashir’s Sudan for his own ascent to power. Little wonder that the CAR’s Christian majority fear that Djotodia and his Muslim allies from the north intend to impose an Islamist regime on the nation.

Back in early 2013, Khartoum convinced Djotodia to renege on his understandings with Paris and Bangui: the January 2013 Libreville Agreement. The Seleka coalition launched a new offensive which culminated in their occupation of Bangui on March 24, 2013, and the overthrow of then-President François Bozizé. During the offensive, the Seleka forces also attacked the AU forces, killing several South African and Ugandan troops.

Djotodia did not forget Khartoum, and soon after assuming power in Bangui started sending quantities of CAR diamonds to his friends in the Khartoum-backed Janjaweed militias in Darfur to help fund their genocidal struggle.

Subsequently, Djotodia moved quickly to transform the CAR into a “grey zone” at the heart of Africa.

The CAR is being transformed from a de facto haven for various armed groups, due to lack of governance in the remote areas, into a willing and active sponsor and facilitator of revolutionary groups and criminal networks in order to further undermine regional stability. Thus, while Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) groups of varying size were tolerated in parts of the CAR since 2008, the growing cooperation between Bashir and Djotodia changed the importance and rôle of the LRA. In late April 2013, Joseph Kony was invited to Sudan and promised supplies and shelter in return for military cooperation in both the CAR and Uganda.

The CAR is thus becoming a hub of subversion in the heart of the Africa with geopolitical ramifications extending far beyond the borders and capabilities of the CAR itself.

Thus, the June 17-18, 2013, visit to Khartoum by Djotodia and his delegation constituted a major upgrade of the CAR’s role in, and contribution to, the Iran-Sudan alliance. In their first private meeting, Bashir assured Djotodia of Sudan’s commitment to supporting and economically sustaining the CAR in return for the CAR’s playing a greater role in the continental designs of Iran and Sudan. Djotodia agreed wholeheartedly, setting the tone for the subsequent discussions between numerous senior officials.

Sudanese and Central African senior intelligence officials discussed how to better utilize the LRA in order to force the Ugandan forces out of the CAR.

Sudan’s ultimate objective is to use LRA forces based in the CAR in order to destabilize the Republic of South Sudan, and then use its territory to have LRA forces reach and destabilize Uganda. Kony has already committed to pursuing Sudan’s strategy. Sudan and the CAR agreed in Khartoum that the first step in this endeavor would be flying LRA forces currently being sheltered, trained and equipped in Sudan to Tambura (in the eastern CAR, off Tumbura, South Sudan).

The Sudanese and Central African Republic senior intelligence officials also met in Khartoum with counterparts from Chad in order to upgrade and refine the tripartite security cooperation deal between their countries. Back in 2012, the three countries agreed to form a joint force in order to monitor their common borders and ostensibly “prevent rebel attacks”. As amended and refined in Khartoum, the tripartite security cooperation deal between Sudan, Chad, and the CAR now regiments and facilitates the flow of convoys with military aid and supplies westward shielded and secured from Western forces and their local allies.

Most important is the groundbreaking regional security agreement discussed and committed to on June 17 by a large group of senior officials co-chaired by Bashir and Djotodia. The Sudanese delegation was led by Defense Minister Abdelraheem Muhammad Hussein, Presidential assistant and veteran intelligence senior official Nafie Ali Nafie, and National Intelligence and Security Services chief Mohamed Atta al-Mawla Abbas. Also around the table were delegations of senior intelligence and security forces officials from the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Mali, and Mauritania.

The delegations discussed and agreed on close strategic cooperation to restore Arab-Muslim preeminence to the entire region of West Africa. The representatives committed to the consolidation of mutually loyal and supportive regimes, as well as to assisting other regional countries to establish Muslim-dominated governments and to have them join their alliance. The senior officials discussed practical modalities for jointly breaking away from stifling Western influence and demands for reforms. They agreed on cooperation in resolving security and economic crises and suppressing democratic opposition forces.

Significantly, all countries present also committed to helping Egypt and Sudan in their “sacred struggle” to sustain the Arab rights to and dominance over the Nile waters.

Thus, the June 17 agreement constituted a major and strategically profound shift in the regional posture and assertiveness. If implemented, West Africa will not be the same.

Thus, as the West — led by the U.S. and France — is contemplating the surge into the Sahel in order to contain AQIM and other jihadist and tribal insurrections, the real challenge will be the Iranian-Sudanese surge aimed to transform the entire West Africa and deny it to the West. Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the other insurgencies will be but instruments of a grand strategic design and surge.

END
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)