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.


Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

Updated 20 min 2 sec ago
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Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

  • Potential bombers ‘at large’ as death toll lowered to 253
  • Muslims asked to shun Friday prayer

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings.

A senior priest said that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces.”

Authorities revised the death toll down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.

The father of two of the suspected bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said suspects remained at large and could have access to explosives. Some of the suspects “may go out for a suicide attack,” Wickremesinghe said.

Hundreds of Ahmadi refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the bombings. Scores of Ahmadis who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords.

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday over security failures. He submitted a letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena.

Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.

“The horrific attack is a demonstration of how tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that originated in this island nation several decades ago returned to haunt a shocked and broken government thanks to a complete collapse of counterterrorism capability or capacity,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert, writes in an opinion piece.

Hate preacher Zahran Hashim, head of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group that is being blamed for the attacks, developed a reputation as a preacher who “copied” Daesh propaganda videos to enhance his posts via the pro-Daesh Al-Ghuraba media channel, which used Facebook and YouTube as its primary platforms, Karasik says. 

Sri Lanka’s Islamic affairs minister, M. H. M. Haleem, asked all Muslims to avoid prayers on Friday for security reasons. He also said it would be a mark of respect for those who perished in the nation’s worst violence in years.

Politician and Western Province Gov. Azath Salley told Arab News that the blasts were orchestrated by a handful of extremists and that the island’s Muslim population could not be held responsible for their “deviant” actions.