Central African Republic
Q. – On 24 March 2013, the Central African Republic’s Séléka overthrew the state government. This rebel coalition is currently plundering every region of the Central African Republic, killing, looting, desecrating buildings, particularly churches, and committing every possible act of brutality.
You’ve just reviewed the situation with the authorities of the Central African Republic, whose Head of State is the leader of this rebel coalition.
While the Central African Republic isn’t Mali, what should be done about the Central African Republic, in your opinion?
THE MINISTER – First of all, thank you very much for your question. Mali and the Central African Republic are two entirely different issues.
In Mali, it was about liberating a country from terrorism. In the Central African Republic, it’s about helping the Central Africans rebuild their country and state. I did meet the transitional authorities and also the religious authorities. I paid a visit – too quick but very striking – to a paediatric unit that is doing outstanding work. I’m also going to talk to our own soldiers, and from all this I’ve drawn a few conclusions in answer to your question.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC/SECURITY
We have three very serious problems here. The first is a security problem. The urgent thing is to restore security everywhere in the Central African Republic. You talked about Séléka; it’s been dissolved by Mr Djotodia. This dissolution must be effective – in other words, there can be no armed gangs, whether it be in Bangui or the rest of the country. In order to overcome those who might resist, it must be possible for the Central African forces to be on the ground with equipment and for the African forces from the four countries making up the buffer force to have the ability to act. Today they number 2,100 but that will increase to 3,500. France is obviously going to help them. We currently have 410 troops tasked essentially with protecting the airport and carrying out patrols in Bangui. But given the international community’s decisions, as shaped by the Security Council, those different forces are going to be able to intervene more – quickly and effectively. I hope this will help restore security.
HUMANITARIAN AID/PUBLIC SECTOR PAY
Secondly, there’s the humanitarian aspect. I had the opportunity to come here with the European Commissioner responsible for humanitarian issues, who is an extremely competent woman and who has already done a great deal to deploy humanitarian aid. But there’s still a lot to do, and we’re going to do it. This means helping the people in terms of health and food and, of course, at the economic level.
As you know, we’ve restored contact with the international economic bodies, which is very important. We’re going to examine the issue of pay, because there are a lot of public sector employees who aren’t getting paid. So we must see what we can do to pay them, and we’ll do this in coordination with a man who enjoys the international community’s trust, General Gaye, who is here. He leads the United Nations [Integrated Peacebuilding] Office for the Central African Republic. All this will be done in the coming weeks.
The third point is the preparation of the political transition. It’s been demanded of the transitional authorities – and the Central Africans are in full agreement – that free elections should be held at the beginning of 2015 and that those authorities should not stand in them – they’ve confirmed this to us. But this requires preparation, because in a number of towns and villages the population register has been destroyed. An electoral commission must be established and a constitutional referendum will have to be organized. I discussed all this with the transitional authorities and so our goal – it’s not easy but it must be achieved – is to have a new government, legitimate of course, at the beginning of 2015.
You talk of religious clashes. Together with Ms Georgieva, I met the leaders of the Catholic Church, the Protestants and Muslims, who are totally united in their view of these issues. The Central African Republic’s tradition isn’t one of religious confrontation. Over the past decades, Central Africans have grown used to working together. They each have the religion they want, or are atheist, but religion mustn’t be mixed up with politics. Some have sought to establish a link between religion and politics and to blow the clashes between Muslims and Christians out of proportion. We reject those clashes and I was extremely happy to see that the authorities, both on the Protestants’ and Catholics’ and on the Muslims’ side, are determined to reject those clashes. That’s also the desire and position of the international community, of Europe and France.
Let’s be clear: there are problems to resolve in the Central African Republic – you know it better than anyone – but in no way should religious confrontation be accepted. That’s crystal clear.
What have I come here to say? That the international community, Europe and particularly France have now taken the decision to put the Central African Republic at the top of the agenda. We’re not going to abandon you; that doesn’t mean it will be easy. The Central Africans are brave people, they know there’s work to do, but we – the international community, Europe and France – are going to work seriously to put the Central African Republic back on its feet. (…)
Q. – (…) The commanders of the military zones have been appointed and put in place. They’re all Muslims. We entirely agree with changes of government bringing in more Muslims because the CAR’s population includes Muslims, but the fact that there is this change – which is turning into a culture shock – shows it’s an emergency. As I speak to you, the killings are continuing, and your timetable is very far removed from this reality.
THE MINISTER – I’m fully aware of this emergency; our timetable must adapt to your emergency and not vice versa. I’d take one example, relating to the pay of people who aren’t being paid. I asked for a meeting in the coming days between General Gaye and Mr Djotodia to ensure this issue is resolved, and it can be. It’s a matter of days, not months or years.
As for the issue of security, it may take a little longer because we can’t intervene without an international mandate. That’s the rule. The first resolution, voted for a few days ago, doesn’t yet allow it because it asks the Secretary-General to compile a report for us. The second resolution will allow it.
In any case, those who are committing these acts of brutality must know straight away that there will be no impunity.
Q. – Even in the case of the interim leader? Because it’s he who, through his statements, is fuelling this dissent.
THE MINISTER – That’s a judgment and I don’t want to go into it. The general attitude of the international community is that all those – at whatever level – who commit acts of brutality will be held accountable for their actions.
I go along with what Ms Kristalina Georgieva says. We’re not telling the Central Africans – who wouldn’t believe it, and they’d be right – that everything will be resolved by tomorrow. Nobody would believe that, but we’re saying that this time we’re committed to things very quickly changing for the better in the Central African Republic.
Q. – (…) What have you said to President Déby, because the Central Africans are complaining about the behaviour of the Chadian contingent which is taking part and supporting the Chadian “Séléka members”?
THE MINISTER – I listened to what President Déby told me, because I think that before taking a position you must always listen to what people say. I’ve also heard this very criticism made here. Chad and the Central African Republic have a long common history and at the same time a shared geography. What I understand is that it’s in Chad’s interest to have a Central African Republic at peace. It can be in nobody’ interest to have at their borders a country that’s in as devastated a state as the Central African Republic is. (…)./.