The UN Security Council has approved increased military action by French and African troops in a bid to try to end the violence and chaos in the Central African Republic.
The UN Security Council resolution, which was approved on Thursday (05.12.2013), is aimed at restoring security and protecting civilians in the Central African Republic.
For the victims of a rebel attack in the early hours of Tuesday morning (03.12.2013), it came too late.
The assault took place 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of the capital Bangui. At least 12 people were killed, including children and a pregnant woman. Local media reported that the woman's stomach had been slit open.
This appears to be yet another example of religiously motivated violence in CAR, which has become increasing frequent. The victims of such attacks are Peul herders, who are mostly Muslim; the suspected culprits are Christian militia.
The CAR is teetering on the brink of civil war. There is sexual violence, torture, arbitrary shootings – plus the unending spiral of religious violence. Fighting between Christian and Muslim has claimed 105 lives since September. In many areas, machetes and small arms change hands at regular intervals.
The UN resolution orders an arm embargo against the CAR and the setting up of a UN commission of inquiry into the violence.
Mandate for troop deployment
The resolution mandates the deployment of about 4,800 African and French troops to the impoverished nation. It also gives a 12 month mandate to the African-led International Support Mission in Central African Republic (MISCA).
There are currently about 2,500 troops in MISCA and that number is now expected to rise to 3,600. France has 600 troops there and plans to increase this to 1,200.
French forces can use "all necessary measures" to support the African contingent.
Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa director of the International Crisis Group think tank, believes the intervention is needed urgently. He said the situation in Bangui is extremely tense and volatile. "A spark could set off a conflagration. Anarchy reigns in the country," he added.
The crisis erupted last year when President Francois Bozize was toppled by rebels from the Muslim Seleka alliance. The country's new leader and former rebel, Michel Djotodia, officially disbanded the alliance in September, but its adherents are still carrying out attacks, many of which target Christians. More than half of the population of the Central African Republic are Christian, just 15 percent are Muslim.
Christians, other opponents of Seleka and supporters of former President Bozize have banded together to form militias, ostensibly for the purposes of self-defense. They call themselves Anti-Balaka, which means "anti-machete" in the Sango language spoken in the CAR. These self-defense militias attack Muslims. "What was initially a problem limited to the Seleka bandits, has turned into a problem between Christians and Muslims," said Vircoulon. "The religious violence, which is getting persistently worse, is what worries us most at the moment."
In mid-November, both France and the United States warned of the possibility of genocide in the CAR. Mego Terzian, who heads the French section of the medical aid agency MSF, believes that would be an exaggeration. "We've been witnessing attacks, particularly in the north and center of the country, where violence occurs daily. It's violence between different ethnic groups. But I don't think you can refer to it as genocide, or even the beginnings of genocide," he said.
Military intervention not enough
Terzian believes that the troops promised by France won't suffice to bring the crisis to an end. "A purely military intervention won't change much," he said.
Terzian has just returned from the CAR and was horrified by what he saw. "There are problems all over the place. Staffing problems, administrative problems, problems with the supply of essential goods and services, problems with medicines and drugs," he said.
There are very few roads that haven't been destroyed. Terzian sees a parallel between the Central African Republic at the end of 2013 and Haiti after the earthquake in 2012. "The international community must help the government of the CAR to restore the country's infrastructure and lead the country out of its present difficulties," he said.
Most aid organizations have pulled out of the region, because they fear for the safety of their staff. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the violence and many have been living in the bush for weeks. The World Food Program warned recently that more than a million people in CAR are not getting enough to eat. That is a quarter of the country's population.
Human Rights Watch said the UN resolution was "a crucial step" towards halting the strife.