Central African Republic, 14 armed groups reach peace deal in Khartoum

Peace talks to end chronic violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) began in Khartoum on January 24, attended by representatives of the government and 14 armed groups, the UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR said. (AFP)
Updated 02 February 2019
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Central African Republic, 14 armed groups reach peace deal in Khartoum

JOHANNESBURG: A peace deal has been reached between the Central African Republic government and 14 armed groups after their first-ever direct dialogue aimed at ending years of conflict, the United Nations and African Union announced on Saturday.
Details of the deal were not immediately available. Talks began Jan. 24 in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. “I am determined to work with the president and his government to address the concerns of our brothers who took up arms,” said cabinet director Firmin Ngrebada, according to the UN
The agreement represents rare hope for the impoverished, landlocked nation where interreligious and intercommunal fighting has continued since 2013. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in a conflict that has sent at least two people to the International Criminal Court.
“This is a great day for Central African Republic and all its people,” said the AU commissioner for peace and security, Smail Chergui.
The fighting in Central African Republic has carried the high risk of genocide, the UN has warned. The conflict began in 2013 when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back. Scores of mosques were burned. Priests and other religious leaders were killed. Many Muslims fled the country after mobs early in the conflict decapitated and dismembered some in the streets.
The vicious fighting in a country known more for coups than interreligious violence was so alarming that Pope Francis made a bold visit in 2015, removing his shoes and bowing his head at the Central Mosque in the last remaining Muslim neighborhood of the capital, Bangui.
“Together we say ‘no’ to hatred,” the pope said.
The violence never disappeared, intensifying and spreading last year after a period of relative peace as armed groups battled over lands rich in gold, diamonds and uranium.
After more than 40 people were killed in a rebel attack on a displaced persons camp in November, both the leader of the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission and the country’s prime minister both acknowledged shortcomings in the response. “I knew that we did not have all the necessary means to protect our people,” the prime minister said.
In a grim report last year marking five years of the conflict, the UN children’s agency said fighters often target civilians rather than each other, attacking health facilities and schools, mosques and churches and camps for displaced people. At least half of the more than 640,000 people displaced are children, it said, and thousands are thought to have joined the armed groups, often under pressure.
Last month the chief of Central African Republic’s soccer federation appeared at the International Criminal Court for the first time since he was arrested last year in France on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona is accused of leading the anti-Balaka for at least a year early in the fighting.
In November a Central African Republic militia leader and lawmaker, Alfred Yekatom, made his first ICC appearance, accused of crimes including murder, torture and using child soldiers. He allegedly commanded some 3,000 fighters in a predominantly Christian militia in and around the capital early in the fighting. He was arrested last year after firing gunshots in parliament.
So far, no Seleka fighters have been publicly targeted by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
As the peace talks began last month, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned of “catastrophe” if no agreement was reached, saying repeated cycles of violence in one of the world’s poorest nations had “pushed people(asterisk)s resistance to breaking point.”
A majority of Central African Republic’s 2.9 million people urgently need humanitarian support, the group said.
On Thursday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend an arms embargo on Central African Republic for a year but raised the possibility that it could be lifted earlier as the government has long urged.


Fire sweeps through Bangladesh slum, nine dead

Updated 17 February 2019
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Fire sweeps through Bangladesh slum, nine dead

  • Fires regularly break out in Bangladesh’s slums, where millions live in squalid living conditions

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh: A fire tore through a slum in southern Bangladesh on Sunday killing at least 9 people and destroying hundreds of shanty homes, police said.
The blaze broke out in the port city of Chittagong at about 3.30 A.M. and raced through the district of bamboo, tin and tarpaulin homes, said local police chief Pranab Chowdhury.
“At least 470 shanties were destroyed by the fire. So far 9 people have died. They included four members of a family,” fire brigade official Hefazatul Islam said.
Fires regularly break out in Bangladesh’s slums, where millions live in squalid living conditions.
Rights groups have in the past alleged some shanty town blazes were deliberate acts of sabotage by developers seeking to free up property to construct multi-story buildings.
“We have seen fires are used as a weapon to evict poor slum dwellers and squatters from government or private property,” rights activist Nur Khan Liton said.