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
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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.


Pakistan police seek to unravel networks trafficking women

Updated 17 min 8 sec ago
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Pakistan police seek to unravel networks trafficking women

  • At least two dozen Chinese nationals and dozens of their Pakistani partners have been arrested in recent weeks in raids by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency
  • Pakistan became a focus of Chinese marriage brokers last year, and activists say that since then as many as 1,000 women and girls have been married off to Chinese men

FAISALABAD, Pakistan: With waves of arrests, Pakistani investigators are trying to unravel trafficking networks that convince impoverished Pakistanis to marry off their daughters to Chinese men for cash, and they say evidence is growing that many of the women and girls are sold into prostitution once in China.
At least two dozen Chinese nationals and dozens of their Pakistani partners have been arrested in recent weeks in raids by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. Pakistani government officials, however, have ordered police to remain quiet about the extent of the networks, fearing it could hurt increasingly close economic ties with Beijing, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.
“We are interested only in stopping the trafficking. Make no mistake, this is trafficking,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the government order. “We think the majority are sold as prostitutes,” he said of the women married in the trafficking schemes.
The AP spoke to seven girls who had been forced to marry Chinese men, four of them still in China. Each described how their new husbands handed them over to paying clients to be raped.
“I was living in hell-like conditions, silently weeping, silently praying for help,” said 20-year-old Natasha Masih. She told of how her husband locked her in a hotel in the remote northwest Chinese city of Urumqi and forced her into prostitution. The AP does not name rape victims, but Masih agreed to her name being used and now after her escape works to help other victims speak out.
Pakistan became a focus of Chinese marriage brokers last year, and activists say that since then as many as 1,000 women and girls have been married off to Chinese men. Most of the women are from Pakistan’s small Christian community, who are among the country’s most desperately poor. Brokers offer families cash to give their daughters as brides, promising them well-off Chinese husbands who would give them a good life. The business is fueled by demand in China, where men outnumber women.
In Pakistan, some Christian pastors are paid to help brokers lure members of their flock into marriages, and the girls — married against their will — become isolated in China, vulnerable to abusive husbands, previous AP reporting found .
China’s ambassador to Pakistan, speaking on local television, denied girls are trafficked to China and sold into prostitution. Trafficking was not discussed during a visit to Pakistan this month by China’s vice president, Wang Qishan. In comments carried in the Pakistani press, Wang denied trafficking was taking place.
“China is denying it is happening, but we are showing the proof,” said Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped bring girls back from China.
The two law enforcement officials said one of the trafficking networks raided by police, based in the city of Lahore, had been operating for at least a year. It was protected by corrupt policemen, and the son of a former senior police official served as the lynchpin between the Chinese and Pakistani operatives, the officials said.
One woman, Sumaira, told the AP how her brothers were paid by brokers and forced her into such a marriage in July last year. The 30-year-old said her husband took her first to a house in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and there she was raped each night by Chinese men for a week.
Before they were to leave for China, she convinced her husband to allow her to go home to say farewell to her sisters. There, she refused to return to the husband and screamed at her brothers, “Why did you sell me? How much money did you get for me?’” she said. The brothers beat her, but she managed to escape to the home of an uncle.
Before her marriage, Sumaira had run a beauty salon in a poor, mostly Christian neighborhood of the Punjab town of Gujranwala. “I was a very different person than what you see now,” she said. “Then I had hope. I believed in my future. Now I don’t know.”
Masih told the AP she was married off in November and soon after left her home in Faisalabad, flying to China with her husband. He took her to the northwest of the country, to a small house in a forested area. Three male and two female friends of her husband shared the house.
Her husband forced her to have sex with the men. Then he took her to the Urumqi hotel, where he confined her to a room and sold her into prostitution.
“I bought you in Pakistan,” she said her husband told her. “You belong to me. You are my property.”
Natasha made furtive calls to her parents on her mobile phone, and her mother turned to her church for help. One parishioner, Farooq Masih, formed a group of men from the congregation to try to recue Natasha. One of the men had a younger brother who was a student in China, said Masih, who is not related to Natasha. The brother agreed to pose as a client and pay him to sleep with Natasha.
Instead, when the student went to the hotel in a taxi, he called Natasha and told her to slip out to meet him.
“I saw him and quickly I took my clothes and got into his taxi,” she said. “I didn’t ask his name. I didn’t ask anything, I just said, ‘Brother, thank you.’” Soon she was on a plane to Pakistan.
Farooq Masih and the men from the church have since dedicated hours to unearthing trafficking networks. They recently conducted their own sting operation in Faisalabad, orchestrating a fake marriage that led the Federal Investigation Agency to the brokers and the pastor who solemnized the unions for a fee.
“I am lucky,” Natasha said. “Many girls who were taken there by their husbands are still living a terrible life. ... Now I know what is freedom and what is slavery. In China, I was treated as a slave by my husband.”