Problems besetting Central African Republic can be overcome – UN official

Problems besetting Central African Republic can be overcome – UN official

Clashes still occur in the Central African Republic (CAR), despite peace accords
The top United Nations political official today voiced his conviction that the various challenges facing the peace process in the Central African Republic (CAR) can be overcome with the continued help of the world body and the country’s international partners.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pasco told a meeting of the Security Council that he was able to see the impact of years of instability and insecurity in the country during his recent visit to the CAR.

“But I also heard words that reflected the profound faith that the Government and people of the country had in the United Nations, which they saw as a reliable partner for the realization of their aspirations for a better future,” he stated.

“The problems are huge, but I am convinced the UN can help to move them to a solution.”

A national dialogue held in the capital Bangui last December, bringing together the Government, non-armed opposition, rebel groups and civil society, resulted in a number of agreements to move the country’s peace process forward, including the establishment of a broad-based government, a commitment to hold municipal, legislative and presidential elections in 2009 and 2010, and the setting up of an independent electoral commission.

Mr. Pascoe said the post-dialogue period has been characterized by “two, sometimes seemingly contradictory, trends.” There have been “significant” efforts to implement the recommendations of the dialogue, on the one hand, while there has also been a resurgence of rebellion in the country’s north, on the other.

“Underlying these two contradictory developments is a third element, namely, the increasing fragility of the peace process in the CAR and of the country itself,” he added.

In his recent report on the CAR, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon identified poverty reduction, the holding of legislative and presidential elections in 2010, and the implementation of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of ex-fighters as important challenges.

Mr. Pascoe, who presented the report to the Council, said the country’s National Assembly is currently meeting to discuss and adopt a new electoral code to guide the preparations for and conduct of the elections. He stressed that the organization of peaceful, transparent and credible elections is contingent on the adoption of an electoral code that is accepted by all stakeholders, as well as the establishment of the independent electoral commission.

“The Secretary-General has called on the CAR authorities to ensure that elections are held on schedule… in order to prevent a constitutional power vacuum which could further complicate an already fragile political environment, including the possibility of renewed violence,” stated Mr. Pascoe.

“It is especially important for the Government to guarantee security and a level playing field for all participants if the electoral process is to proceed peacefully and with credibility,” he added.

The official added that while the concrete launching of DDR operations is yet to begin, critical preparatory work has advanced. This includes the adoption of technical documentation, the submission of provisional lists of ex-combatants to the UN, and the release of about $4 million in initial funding from the UN’s Peacebuilding Fund to jump-start the project.

Like the UN Peacebuilding Commission, the Fund was set up to help countries emerging from conflict consolidate their gains and avoid slipping back into bloodshed.

Last month, the Commission adopted a plan to support the country’s efforts which identifies three priority areas for the CAR and its partners to focus on, namely security sector reform, governance and the rule of law, and economic growth.

Ambassador Jan Grauls of Belgium, who visited the country last month as head of the Commission’s country specific configuration for the CAR, told the Council that a successful DDR programme is vital for the holding of the elections.

He noted that recalcitrant rebel groups were returning to the peace process and that the financing of the first phase of the programme was assured thanks to contributions by the Peacebuilding Fund and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

He also welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal to transform the current UN Peacebuilding Office in the CAR into an integrated office, to be known as BINUCA, which would allow for further support of the Commission’s work.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned today of increasing violence in the country’s north-east, highlighting in particular attacks on Sunday on the town of Birao that have “emptied the town of most of its population, left three civilians and at least six members of the armed forces wounded and over 100 homes burnt to the ground.”

The town falls under the mandate of the UN mission in CAR and Chad (MINURCAT), and aid workers in the area were evacuated to the UN base following what was the second major attack on Birao this month.

In addition, UN Special Representative Victor Angelo, who also heads MINURCAT, flew to Bangui today for an urgent meeting with the country’s President and Government officials to discuss the deteriorating security situation.