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Central African Republic: civilians have more trust in armed rebels than peacekeepers

Written by Veronique Barbelet

Embargoed until 00.01 Tuesday 17 November (GMT)

Civilians in the troubled Central African Republic are turning to armed rebel groups for protection after being left feeling vulnerable following the intervention of international peacekeepers, new research by the Overseas Development Institute has found.

The largely Muslim Seleka and predominately Christian anti-Balaka are responsible for the majority of human rights violations against civilians which, according to the UN, include extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and recruitment of child soldiers, even within their own community.

However in interviews, Muslim and Christian civilians in CAR, where recent escalating violence has forced the government to reschedule elections, revealed they think armed rebels provide more protection than international forces, even while recognising that they’re at risk of attack by the same rebels.

The ODI report, “Central African Republic: addressing the protection crisis” found that civilians think international forces made some populations more at risk of attack. The AU and French peacekeepers disarmed rebels in an effort to reduce violence, but only targeted the Selekas. This left civilians vulnerable to violence from the anti-Balakas and mobs of civilians.

“Millions of people are in need of aid in the Central African Republic. Civilians are living in constant fear – and they’re turning to armed groups for protection. This can undermine prospects for peace in the country,” said Veronique Barbelet, report author and Research Fellow in the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI.

Meanwhile, the government is unable to protect its people, leading to a proliferation of self-defence militias, armed groups and bandits. Violence has caused the country to delay elections until 27 December 2015.

“International and government forces need to present themselves as a credible protective force before they can disarm, demobilise and reintegrate armed rebels. Only then will there be the right environment for free and fair elections to take place,” added Barbelet.

To interview Veronique Barbelet please contact Tania Cheung at 020 7922 0348 or [email protected].

Notes to editors:

CAR will soon head into its third year of sectarian conflict between the largely Muslim Seleka and the Christian anti-Balaka armed groups.

Peacekeeping forces entered CAR initially as an African Union peacekeeping force - the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) - supported by the French. Later in April 2014 it was replaced by a UN peacekeeping force in April 2014 - the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

The statement by the UN about human rights violations was made in UN Security Council Resolution 2121, 10 October 2013.

The press release is also available in French. Contact [email protected] for a copy.