UN calls on CAfrica to guarantee peacekeeper safety

The UN Security Council on Monday called on the Central African Republic and “all forces present” in the conflict-wracked country to ensure the safety of its peacekeepers — likely an implicit rebuke of Russian soldiers there as “instructors.”

In a statement approved unanimously during a closed-door meeting spearheaded by France, the Council’s 15 members also called for CAR forces, the Blue Helmets and others to coordinate their efforts.

The Council did not identify the other “forces” but seemed to be referring to a large contingent of Russian soldiers acting as unarmed “instructors” in the country.

Numerous witnesses and NGOs say the instructors are in fact paramilitaries from the Wagner Group, a shadowy private military company that is actively participating in the fight against CAR rebels, alongside Rwandan special forces and UN peacekeepers.

The Security Council also did not say what prompted their sudden meeting on the issue, simply saying that “attacks against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes.”

One diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity that the UN mission in the country (MINUSCA) has been subject to “obstacles and media attacks on the ground.”

In late May, the UN under secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who visited the Central African Republic, cited “incidents” that happened between peacekeepers and other forces, without offering details. 

Council members received a briefing from MINUSCA head Mankeur Ndiaye, but no details were made public.

“The members of the Security Council strongly condemned ongoing human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in the CAR, and stressed the need to bring to justice their perpetrators,” the statement said.

“They called on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access.”

France, the former colonial power in the CAR, said Monday it was freezing aid and military cooperation with the government in Bangui, accusing authorities of being complicit in an anti-French disinformation campaign masterminded by Russia.

Paris has been under tough pressure to lift an arms embargo on the Central African Republic, in place since 2013 and which is expiring on July 31.

In a recent letter to the Security Council, released Monday by the UN, Angola, the Republic of Congo and the CAR again called for a special meeting aimed at getting the embargo lifted. A previous request in February went unheeded.

The perennially unstable Central African Republic, among the poorest countries in the world, has been gripped by civil war since a coalition of armed groups overthrew the government in 2013.

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