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Central African Republic

Publié le February 14, 2014
Hearing of M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defense, before the Senate National Defense and Armed Forces Committee
Paris, February 4, 2014

This morning, General Soriano and I talked about the visit by 10 members of Parliament, which could take place at the end of next week, and we’re making efforts to organize it under the best conditions.

CAR/POLITICAL TRANSITION

On 14 January, the date of my last hearing, Mr Djotodia had just resigned and we were waiting for the new authorities to be designated. There were still many former Séléka militias in the capital, and even though the fear now lay in the other camp, we were still afraid of a flare-up in Bangui. We had to face up to a prolonged institutional vacuum, the redeployment northwards of the Chadian contingent of the [African-led] International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA [AFISM-CAR]), the departure of many Chadians from Bangui and strong resentment of the anti-balakas.

Although this very delicate phase is currently being put behind us while the new leaders of the political transition are installed, many tensions remain in Bangui and beyond. The role of our soldiers has, however, been decisive – as has that of the religious leaders – in containing the tensions; they must continue to show great calm in their mission.

The Djotodia-Tiangaye duo was a political dead end. The transitional president elected on 20 January, Ms Samba-Panza, appointed Mr Nzapayeke to the post of Prime Minister. The new government, more technical than the last, will get to work on putting the administration back on track, preparing elections and, as far as possible, the reconciliation process.

We support the transitional authorities and the new president’s action, in the framework of a mission whose aims remain clear: to contain outbursts of violence in order to enable the political transition and the delivery of humanitarian aid, and to help MISCA be deployed through joint actions aimed at impartially disarming the militias in both camps.

MILITARY SITUATION/MISCA/MILITIAS

Former Séléka rebels are flowing back towards the north-east, into the Bria area and as far as Birao. This group, which was behind the coup d’état that brought Mr Djotodia to power, was initially composed of Sudanese mercenaries – most of whom have now returned to their country –, Chadians not affiliated to the government authorities, and Central Africans. Some of its leaders, like Noureddine Adam, regularly threaten a partition of the CAR: while nothing suggests this might happen today, the risk remains and I must say it worries me.

There are two facets to the CAR today. The situation has improved in the capital, which is nevertheless still the setting for acts of brutality – anti-balakas and animists exerting strong pressure on Muslims, large numbers of whom have abandoned their districts – and outside the capital, ex-Séléka members are settling scores violently as they flow back towards the north-east; in their wake, the anti-balakas are in turn wreaking revenge on the Muslim population, thus exposing themselves to reprisals, as occurred the day before yesterday in Boda.

The Sangaris and MISCA forces disarmed some of the former Séléka militias before they left Bangui and recovered some of their heavy weapons – machine guns, twin-barrelled anti-aircraft cannon and rocket launchers, which were handed over to MISCA. As for the anti-balakas, they have much more basic weapons: machetes, bows with poisoned arrows and home-made single-shot rifles. Only a fifth of the initial ex-Séléka troops remain in Bangui – some 1,000, grouped into two camps: RDOT in the north and Béal in the centre. As for Camp Kassai, it’s been abandoned. We’ve reinforced our presence in the capital, particularly around the Muslim population and along the separation lines between the districts. Our troops are patrolling jointly with those of MISCA, particularly in the city with Rwandan and Burundian soldiers.
The situation is more worrying outside the capital. Our forces are present in Bossangoa – with the equivalent of a company –, in Bossembélé, Mbaïki and Yaloke, with different MISCA units which then remain on the ground. They accompany the MISCA contingents, identify certain main roads and secure the route between Bangui and Cameroon, along which an operation was conducted last week to protect a convoy of humanitarian lorries from Douala.

It must be remembered that we’re acting with the greatest impartiality, contrary to certain rumours which suggest we’re favouring the Christian population. For example, our soldiers saved two ex-Séléka rebels from being lynched; having said that, they react in legitimate self-defence when ex-Sélékas attack them.

HUMANITARIAN SITUATION

The humanitarian situation is still tragic. By helping make districts of Bangui safe, the Sangaris forces are enabling non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to come to the aid of all sectors of the population, whatever their faith. Out of 4.5 million inhabitants, two million are in a situation of food insecurity; 800,000 people are displaced and 250,000 have taken refuge in the neighbouring countries. One of the priorities is still to secure a “pilot” district (1) south of the airport in order to unblock the camp set up along the runway, into which some 100,000 people have crowded, mostly Christians. We’re working together fruitfully with the voluntary humanitarian organizations, which are urging refugees to return to their districts.

MISCA/UN ROLE/EU ROLE

The African Union has managed to deploy reinforcements more quickly than expected, with the arrival of reinforcements last week bringing MISCA’s troop numbers to 6,000, led by General Mokoko and General Tumenta. MISCA’s productivity is still limited by certain shortages in the general staff – even though about 10 French officers are on it – and by shortcomings in logistical and communications resources. We’ll no doubt have to wait a few weeks for those forces to be fully operational; they’ll then be deployed throughout the Central African Republic.

On MISCA’s funding, the donors’ conference last week brought rather modest results, with only $316 million in promised donations, which will be allocated to equipping the troops. It’s very likely that MISCA won’t be fully operational until the beginning of the spring, when it will play its full role in the framework of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2121 and 2127.

That brings me to the role of the UN, whose Security Council – through Resolution 2134, adopted on 28 January – gave a new mandate to the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA), led by General Gaye: it’s a matter of asking the Central African government to speed up the political transition and enable elections to be held in February 2015 at the latest; at the Paris summit, the African heads of state and government set a deadline of the end of 2014. BINUCA’s mission has been strengthened to help re-establish the administration and support the international commission of inquiry into the atrocities, several mass graves having been discovered.
Under the terms of this same resolution, the United Nations threatens sanctions against any individual who endangers peace, stability or security, obstructs the transition process or violates human rights. The strengthening of BINUCA won’t, however, enable all the challenges to be tackled in the short term: only a peacekeeping operation (PKO) will enable the Central African state itself to be re-established. This idea is beginning to gain ground: Ms Samba-Panza has just sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General supporting it; several African countries which initially wanted to resolve the problem by themselves are beginning to rally round it, as are the United States – which was initially in favour of an African solution – and the United Kingdom. In fact, the state is so damaged that it’s hard to see how to re-establish it other than through a PKO, which could mobilize up to 10,000 troops. At the end of February, the UN Secretary-General will present a report on the issue so that the Security Council can debate it. In any case, such an operation wouldn’t come into existence before the summer.

For its part, the European Union, in the framework of the African Peace Facility, has released €50 million to equip and support MISCA. The donors’ conference granted an additional package of €25 million to support the African military mission, adding to the €225 million and €20 million allocated for development aid and humanitarian aid respectively.
On 20 January, the Foreign Affairs Council decided unanimously on a temporary military engagement via the EUFOR mechanism. In this framework, 500 soldiers are due to be mobilized, with the aim of making M’Poko airport and several districts of Bangui safe: this will enable our own forces to be redeployed in other parts of the country. France will be the lead nation in this operation, whose headquarters will be in Greece, which currently holds the EU presidency. We must now obtain from our partners the mobilization of the 500 troops planned: that’s what I’m currently working on. Last Saturday, at the Munich Security Conference, I was able to put the case to several of my European counterparts. The procedure for the engagement of forces varies depending on the European country, and it’s difficult for me to predict their future decisions, although there are a few suggestions that the Spanish, Estonians, Georgians and Poles could give positive responses. In any case, the European forces’ mission will be decided on 10 February; the force generation conference will then follow, before the operation is launched.

MILITARY SITUATION/MILITIAS/MISCA/EUFOR RCA/CHADIAN ROLE

To sum up, the political phase that is beginning, with a determined president, is more favourable than the previous one. However, the security environment remains tense – less in Bangui than outside – and given the chaos, banditry is thriving, particularly on the road linking Bangui to Bouar. (…)

Without our intervention, the death toll would have been in the thousands. The crystallization of hatred, combined with the lack of a state and with banditry, would have made the situation literally uncontrollable.

The ex-Séléka members, who have lost their political authority since Mr Djotodia resigned, now feel threatened and are starting to leave the camps where we’d confined them, the effect of which is to increase the feeling of insecurity among the Muslim population. For their part, the anti-balakas are settling scores with those they believe to have been ex-Séléka accomplices. Whatever the case, while the situation has been more or less stabilized in Bangui, despite the acts of brutality along the separation lines between the districts, this is not the case in the rest of the country – with the exception of Bossangoa.

The ex-Sélékas, having left Bangui, had taken possession of Sibut, where our troops intervened with those of MISCA; the latter remained there alone, and the ex-Sélékas left the town. In short, the situation has improved, particularly in Bangui, but it’s still far from having calmed down in a lasting way: to achieve this, a PKO will be necessary. The needs have been estimated at 10,000 Blue Helmets, who will of course include soldiers redeployed from MISCA – following the example of the replacement of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (MISMA [AFISMA]) by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Such a process takes time, so it most probably won’t come into existence before the summer: in the meantime, we must continue our mission in the direction I was indicating, while hoping for the EU’s support.

Beyond the strictly humanitarian aspect, the main risk would be of allowing a security vacuum: indeed, groups from Boko Haram or even al-Shabaab could then take advantage and turn the area into a hub open to all terrorists, which would have repercussions for South Sudan, Congo and even Chad. Contrary to what I’ve read, Mr Déby has no interest – including for the integrity of his own territory – in the Central African Republic becoming a lawless state. One remembers the slightly fantastical circumstances of Mr Djotodia’s resignation. ECCAS, the Economic Community of Central African States, was meeting in N’Djamena and the President of Congo, Mr Sassou-Nguesso, had made a plane available to the Transitional National Council (CNT) to enable it to deliberate, under the protection of the Chadian security forces and in the presence of the neighbouring heads of state; everyone urged President Djotodia to step down. After announcing his resignation – in N’Djamena, in order not to leave himself open to reprisals in Bangui – he went to Benin, and the 135 members of the CNT were then taken to Bangui to elect a new head of state.

To my knowledge, there are no repercussions today in South Sudan.
As for the battlegroups, they have a rotating command which was covered, among others, by Britain in December; their engagement is conditional on the EU member states’ unanimous approval. This has now been done with EUFOR, although each country must still decide on the level of its contribution. It would have been logical for the battlegroups to be mobilized; but for the time being, no decision has been taken to this effect. The point was discussed at the Council of Defence Ministers at the end of December, and France intends to put it up for debate again. The battlegroups have never been used: are they doomed to exist only on paper? (…)

As things currently stand, no jihadist terrorist groups are to be found in the CAR. The ex-Sélékas and anti-balakas form militias – the former Muslim-dominated and the latter Catholic-dominated – whose concern is less ideology than banditry and the desire to seize power. Having said that, if chaos is allowed to take hold, then yes, all excesses will be possible. Let me remind you that there are only 3,000 to 5,000 ex-Séléka troops; as for the anti-balakas, they may be men who decide to turn to violence overnight: so it’s difficult to make estimates, and the task of our forces is all the more complex. In particular, they’re doing outstanding intelligence work.

Our troops are following the ex-Séléka groups, but not the displaced civilians, of course; the latter will take refuge in the camps where they feel protected. For example, our troops have made safe a district of southern Bangui, not far from the airport, to enable humanitarian aid to be delivered and refugees to return. We are of course continuing this mission, with the now more effective support of the new government; the previous one’s links with the ex-Séléka rebels made the task more difficult.

There’s no contact between the groups established in southern Libya and the CAR. The presence of people of Chadian origin in the Birao region is a specifically Central African issue, while trafficking in northern Chad is part of a Sahel-wide problem. Mr Déby – with whom I’ve discussed the subject several times – is very concerned about the territorial integrity of Chad and the Central African Republic; he’s especially vigilant about the situation in the south of his country.

EUFOR’s rules of engagement won’t automatically be the same as for the Sangaris forces. The principle of this European operation will be endorsed on 10 February, after which there will be an operations plan laying down the rules of engagement for the volunteer countries. In short, the procedure is similar to the one which was applied for the European Union Training Mission in Mali, EUTM Mali. What’s more, in my view a similar kind of mission will be necessary in the Central African Republic to rebuild a derelict army; with this in mind, my Central African opposite number is inviting the former Central African Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers to return to those forces, failing which they will be classed as deserters. (…)

All the community leaders called for a PKO during their European round of visits. In districts – Bangui and elsewhere – they’ve got intermediaries who often work together. (…)

The Central African government is registering the soldiers who belonged to the FACA: I would add that it must be vigilant in order to avoid the problems encountered in Mali.

I resolutely support the principle of an operation along the lines of EUTM, which is producing very good results in Koulikoro, Mali. That said, the time isn’t yet ripe: I’ll be talking to the new Central African authorities and General Soriano about it on Sunday. In the meantime, I hope the European countries will mobilize in EUFOR. It would be disappointing, to say the least, not to get 500 soldiers committed, especially as we’ll be making our contribution too. My German opposite number told me of his willingness, but over in Germany the procedure for committing troops takes two or three months: this is too long for envisaging EUFOR’s participation. So Germany will limit itself to logistical assistance, but would probably participate in an operation to rebuild the army. It’s nonetheless worth bearing in mind that sovereignty is about more than just the army: to restore its other attributes, a PKO will be particularly useful.

MALI DISENGAGEMENT

The disengagement in Mali is continuing at the pace planned: there’ll be no more than 1,000 soldiers committed at the end of the spring, as opposed to 2,600 in December 2013. They’re based mainly in Gao. Indeed, our troops on the ground are there as part of a regional redeployment. A general officer will nevertheless remain in Bamako, attached to the elected authorities.

CAR/PARTITION RISKS

I talked about the risks of partition. That said, Chad is resolutely opposed to it; it could even become a casus belli for it. A community of Chadian origin but Central African nationality has long been established in Bangui: comprising mainly of tradesmen, it has been the victim of reprisals and acts of vandalism, so much so that some of its members are starting to return to Chad. In actual fact it’s the flow of ex-Séléka members back to the north-east which might lead to a risk of partition.
A mobilization of the European Gendarmerie Force is wholly conceivable, but only in a second phase.

LIBYA

As for southern Libya, we’re cooperating with the United States on intelligence. The foreign ministers will meet in Rome at the beginning of March to talk about the issue. It will be necessary, some day or other, to begin dialogue with the Libyan authorities, but we know the complexity of the situation. Admiral Guillaud’s statement on the need for a new intervention in Libya was taken out of context: what was said was more general and conveyed the international community’s concern about the region which, in fact, stretches from Guinea-Bissau to Syria.
Three thousand soldiers will be present in the Sahel-Sahara area for a period of time: no date has therefore been set for a possible departure. These troops will be added to those already deployed in the Dakar, Abidjan and Libreville bases. Such a deployment is obviously a mobilizing factor for our army. (…)

CAR/SECURITY

The security forces are nonexistent. Mr Djotodia more or less openly supported the ex-Séléka members; this is of course no longer the case. So the only security forces available are those of Operation Sangaris and MISCA. However, the dialogue with the Central African presidency is far better than before. Ms Samba-Panza is applying herself to rallying her people, and the government she has appointed – more technical than the previous one – has very few ex-Séléka or anti-balaka members, and no ex-supporters of President Bozizé, but it has only few resources. So financial assistance will be necessary. Don’t forget that civil servants haven’t been paid for some time./.

(1) Set up by Sangaris and MISCA forces. Christians and Muslims will work together to organize the life of the two communities and explain to people that the crisis is political and not religious.

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