Europe in No Hurry to Stop Ethnic Cleansing in Central Africa
Officials blame ‘logistics’ for delay
With Russians in Crimea, Central African Republic has dropped entirely off the front pages of newspapers. Which doesn’t mean that everything is fine in the landlocked country.
Tens of thousands have died in fighting in recent months. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims are fleeing religious violence. And international peacekeepers are in no rush to prevent further killings.
Relative peace has returned to the capital Bangui. The city was the scene of some of the worst violence, perpetrated first by Muslim rebels of the Séléka alliance against perceived supporters of the ousted president Francois Bozizé—and later by self-defense militias called anti-balaka, who attacked the local civilian Muslim population.
France sent in 2,000 troops. Paris claims its soldiers and African forces—including contingents from Burundi and Rwanda—brought the city back under control. But the reality is that there are simply no Muslims left to target. Hundreds are dead and the rest have fled to neighboring countries such as Chad and Cameroon.
Now the peacekeepers need to deploy beyond the capital and round up, disarmed and demobilize armed groups in a country the size of France. Ideally, this would allow the return home of the Muslim population.
But with troops in several other conflict areas in Africa including Mali, the French military is stretched thin. Regional powers such as Uganda, South Africa and Rwanda are already busy intervening in Darfur, South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The European Union agreed to relieve the French in Bangui with 1,000 troops from member states. This would allow the French to concentrate on other parts of the country.
But the planned EUFOR mission has stalled. “What is missing relates to the logistics front: the operation needs more nurses, doctors, drivers, etc., to be launched,” the office of High Representative of the European Union Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton told War is Boring.
French Gen. Philippe Pontiès, the commander of the planned E.U. mission, made similar comments to the magazine Jeune Afrique. “The start [of the mission] relies on the establishment of a logistical structure. About a hundred soldiers for tasks like medical support, transport and force deployment are still missing.”
Until the logisticians arrive, the balance of the fresh troops, provided by seven European states, are on standby, according to Ashton’s office.
Blame it on Russia
Some commentators blame the difficulties on the crisis in Ukraine, which has occupied European foreign policy experts for the past few weeks. Eastern European governments in particular have focused their attention on what they perceive as Russian aggression instead of worrying over the situation in Africa.
To a cynic, a more relaxed approach to peacekeeping might seem acceptable, now that a majority of the Muslims have evacuated the country anyway and the violence has subsided a bit.
But recent history cautions against complacency. The wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda teach us that a conflict as intense as the one in Central Africa ends only after decisive and robust outside intervention. The E.U. must act now to stop the conflict from dragging on for potentially decades.