UN seeks more peacekeepers for Central African Republic

UN forces from Rwanda patrol the streets of Bangui, Central African Republic. (AP)
Updated 16 September 2017
0

UN seeks more peacekeepers for Central African Republic

BANGUI: The UN peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic is requesting about 750 more troops to help fill a “security vacuum” worsened by the withdrawal of US special forces as violence surges again, according to a confidential cable obtained by The Associated Press.
The additional troops are needed in the southeast after the withdrawal this year of US and Ugandan troops hunting the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, according to the message from mission head Parfait Onanga-Anyanga to the UN’s head of peacekeeping operations in New York.
Hundreds of people have been killed since May and more than half a million people have been displaced as largely sectarian violence moves into parts of Central African Republic that were spared the worst of the fighting that began in 2013. International observers warn that the country is approaching the levels of violence seen at the height of the conflict in 2014.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said he wanted to “shine a spotlight on an under-reported emergency” in Central African Republic, which has seen a 37 percent increase in refugees and displaced people in the past three months.
Rebel groups control an estimated 70 percent of the country, according to international human rights organizations. The UN mission has acknowledged that its authorized force of 10,750 military personnel and 2,080 police is not enough in the country roughly the size of Texas.
The request for more troops would increase the total of uniformed peacekeepers to about 13,500.
“It’s pretty clear that the mission, with its current capacity, is overstretched,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Lewis Mudge. “They simply don’t have the means to address the increased attacks on civilians.”
The fighting is mostly between predominantly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and majority Christian anti-Balaka fighters over resources and trade routes in the countryside.
The existence of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group in the region is also a concern. The US and Ugandan militaries in pulling out of the hunt for the LRA said the group had largely been neutralized. However, leader Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, remains one of Africa’s most-wanted fugitives. The UN has reported kidnappings by the LRA in the region since the pullout.
In his cable, Onanga-Anyanga wrote that “new actors are emerging to fill the security vacuum (in the southeast), creating upheaval in a once relatively calm region.” Those include offshoots of the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka fighters.
The UN peacekeeping mission needs an “urgent increase in military capabilities given the deteriorating security situation and escalating violence against civilians, humanitarians and peacekeepers,” said Evan Cinq-Mars, the UN advocate and policy adviser at the non-profit Center for Civilians in Conflict.
But any request for more resources for the UN mission is challenged by pressure from the Trump administration to cut peacekeeping budgets, even though the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, met with Central African Republic President Faustin Touadera in March and reaffirmed US support for the country.
The UN peacekeeping mission did not comment.
The additional peacekeepers, if granted, also may be used to push out the ex-Seleka rebel group Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic. Onanga-Anyanga’s cable said the mission’s force commander is “confident the armed groups can be ousted from Bria” town in the southeast.
UN peacekeepers earlier this year forced the ex-Seleka rebel group Union for the Peace in Central African Republic out of the central mining town of Bambari.
Mudge, who recently visited Bambari, said the town is doing better now with the peacekeepers and state security forces back in control.
“Efforts to oust (rebels) from major towns, as long as there are sufficient blue helmets to maintain peace, may increase stability in the east,” Mudge said, referring to the peacekeepers.


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
0

France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.