United Nations peacekeepers were out in force at polling stations throughout the Central African Republic (CAR) today as the country voted in presidential and legislative elections, a major step on the path to stability after two years of conflict between Muslims and Christians.
Military and police units from the 11,000-strong UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) joined soldiers from the French Sangaris force and local security teams in “a strategy of pre-emption, prevention and reaction to anticipate, prevent and react against all imponderables and all risks,” the Mission reported in its latest bulletin.
The UN has played a major role in seeking to restore peace after fighting between the mainly Muslim Séléka and mainly Christian anti-Balaka groups erupted in early 2013, in which thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more forced from their homes.
Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took to CAR’s radio waves to appeal for a massive turn-out in the polls. “The upcoming elections are a historical moment for your country,” he said in French on today’s first round of the polls.
“Never before have so many central Africans registered to vote,” he said. “I call on every one of you to use your right to vote without letting others preventing you from expressing yourselves peacefully. The Organisation of the United Nations will stand by you during this critical time.”
In a later statement issued by his spokesman, he called on all national stakeholders to commit themselves to ensuring that the elections are conducted in a peaceful and credible manner, saying he was encouraged to see that almost two million people have registered to vote “in a clear demonstration of the population’s engagement to exercise their democratic franchise.”
He pledged the UN’s commitment to do everything possible in cooperation with the national authorities to prevent any possible disruption of the electoral process, and urged all political stakeholders to work closely with MINUSCA in this regard, calling on them to resolve disputes that may arise from the elections through legal and peaceful means.
He also commended the Transitional Authorities for organizing the referendum on a new Constitution earlier this month “under very challenging political, financial, logistical and security conditions,” and reiterated continued UN commitment to assist CAR towards a future of peace and stability.
After nine months of improved stability earlier this year a new wave of inter-communal violence erupted in September, killing at least 130 people, injuring 430 others, and triggering an 18 per cent increase in the number of internally displaced persons to 447,500.
On 11 December, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein voiced deep concern at mounting sectarian language, warning of possible “dramatic consequences” given the highly volatile pre-election atmosphere. In late November, Pope Francis visited CAR’s capital, Bangui, visiting churches and a mosque and appealing for inter-communal peace.