Press Conference by Head of United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Central African Republic
With the help of troops deployed from around the region and the world, the Central African Republic was working to implement a three-pronged peace agreement recently signed with a coalition of rebel groups, the top United Nations official in that country said at a Headquarters press conference today.
The rebel coalition, known collectively as “Séléka”, had launched a major offensive in the country in December, recalled Margaret Vogt, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA). Séléka forces had taken 12 towns in the north and north-east before reaching a peace agreement with the Government on 11 January in Libreville, capital of neighbouring Gabon, she added, noting that today’s briefing coincided with the adoption of resolution 2088 (2013), which extended BINUCA’s mandate until 2014.
Ms. Vogt stressed that the Séléka rebellion had, unfortunately, erupted at a critical juncture for the Central African Republic, indeed, “just when we thought we were ready to move forward”. The Government and opposition forces had completed a discussion on an electoral code, marking the first time in the country’s recent history that the two sides had “sat down and agreed on something concrete”. An electoral reform bill had already been sent to parliament, she said, adding that the December hostilities had interrupted further expected progress.
Nevertheless, regional Heads of State had moved quickly in responding to the crisis, she continued. Within days of the rebel offensive, Congo, Cameroon and Gabon had all deployed troops, which had joined Chadian forces already on the ground. A number of other countries, including France, had bolstered their presence, particularly in Bangui, the threatened capital. All players had worked hard to get the belligerent parties to sit down at the negotiating table in Libreville as quickly as possible, she stressed, explaining that the Libreville accord comprised three agreements: a declaration of principles to resolve the political and security crisis; a ceasefire agreement; and a political agreement.
She said the latter called for a Government of national unity, with the Prime Minister appointed from opposition ranks and tasked with specific functions, from restoring peace and security, to reorganizing of national defence and security forces, to judicial, economic and social reform, among others. The ceasefire agreement called for a complete cessation of hostilities, the creation of an enabling environment for the return of internally displaced persons, the return of prisoners and the cantonment of all Séléka troops. Ms. Vogt noted that cantonment — the removal of rebel fighters from town centres — was considered a major issue as it would facilitate humanitarian access.
Reviewing developments following the signing of the peace accord, she said it was unfortunate that a representative tasked with launching a committee to follow up on the agreements had yet to be named. However, Nicolas Tiangaye, a lawyer, had been named Prime Minister and United Nations staff were returning to Bangui, which had been evacuated following the rebel offensive. Alongside national and other international organizations, the United Nations was pushing for full implementation of the Libreville agreements, she said, stressing: “Words are one thing, actions on the ground are another.”
Ms. Vogt went on to emphasize that ensuring respect for the ceasefire and the other tracks of the accord was among the major challenges now facing the country. Indeed, there were “worrying” discrepancies between words and deeds on the ground, she noted. To ensure that the agreements held up, Séléka troops would be undertaking a “sensitization mission” with its troops in the coming week.
“Whatever happens in the Central African Republic will have an impact on all the countries in the region,” she said, adding that the international community must engage both diplomatically and financially to “pull [the country] back from the brink”. In that regard, she said she was delighted that the Security Council had adopted resolution 2088 (2013) this morning, ensuring that the mission would continue to work with all parties to facilitate full implementation of the agreements.
Ms. Vogt responded to a number of questions, including one about the alleged looting of hospitals and the abduction of citizens. Even United Nations offices, and those of other international organizations had been ransacked, she said, calling upon the Séléka leadership to “contain the beast” in order to ensure that its forces “get the message” about the peace agreement.
Regarding abductions and other human rights violations, she said the United Nations planned to deploy a fact-finding mission, with help from Geneva and New York, so as to get a “full picture”.
Asked about Séléka’s alleged seizure of towns despite the peace agreements, she said the rebel leadership had admitted to the seizures but maintained that it had not authorized them. It was crucial to sensitize troops and to ensure that the ceasefire was implemented on the ground, Ms. Vogt reiterated.
When asked about the “controversial” presence of the South African National Defence Forces, she said they had arrived on the basis of a bilateral agreement, adding that any efforts to make the country more secure “should not be discouraged”. Indeed, the Central African Republic needed the capacity to ensure that when cantonment began, towns vacated by Séléka forces would be protected. “We will need a robust presence,” she said, adding that French, South African and regional forces would all take part in that effort. “People are sleeping a lot more soundly” as a result of the international presence, she said.
For information media • not an official record