Armed groups have killed 220 civilians and abducted 96 others in eastern Central African Republic (CAR) since January 2017, while also killing eight peacekeepers from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA). Leadership from the UN Security Council and U.S. government is needed to expand community-based early warning, resilience, and social cohesion programs in eastern CAR and ensure MINUSCA more effectively implements its protection of civilians mandate.
I. OVERVIEW OF ESCALATING ARMED GROUP ACTIVITY SINCE JANUARY 2017
Armed group violence has escalated sharply in eastern CAR in recent weeks, particularly in Mbomou and Haute Kotto prefectures. In May alone, ex-Seleka forces and local “self-defense” militias (commonly referred to as anti-balaka) killed 132 civilians in the towns of Bangassou and Bria. In neighboring Haut Mbomou prefecture, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) combatants have abducted 51 civilians so far in 2017. Armed groups also remain active in neighboring areas of northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, periodically crossing into eastern CAR and contributing to frequent flows of refugees between the three countries.
This violence comes on the heels of the decision in April 2017 by the United States (U.S.) and Uganda to begin withdrawing forces deployed in eastern CAR that have been conducting operations against the LRA. Ugandan troops were deployed to pursue the LRA as part of the African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF), which was re-authorized by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) in May 2017, despite the announcement of the Ugandan withdrawal. Ugandan and U.S. troops in eastern CAR were tasked with pursuing the LRA, but their deployments also played a key role in preventing the expansion of ex-Seleka and self-defense (antibalaka) armed groups into Haut Mbomou and eastern Mbomou. Violence involving ex-Seleka and self-defense (anti-balaka) militias in eastern CAR On November 21, 2016, simmering tensions between two ex-Seleka factions, the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC) and the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC), escalated into clashes that left dozens of civilians and combatants killed or wounded in Bria, the capital of Haute Kotto prefecture.
In February 2017, MINUSCA forced UPC and FPRC combatants away from the Bambari area in neighboring Ouaka prefecture, leading to a higher concentration of ex-Seleka fighters in Haute Kotto and areas of Mbomou prefecture previously stabilized by Ugandan troops. Fighting involving ex-Seleka and self-defense (anti-balaka) forces erupted in the Mbomou towns of Bakouma and Nzako from March 20–21, killing 20 people and displacing hundreds more. Women and children have been particularly vulnerable to recent violence, exemplified by an April 11 incident in nearby Fode in which a self-defense militia attacked a group from the minority Peuhl community, killing a woman and four-year-old child. From April 25–27, clashes involving self-defense (anti-balaka) militias, UPC fighters, and Peuhls along the Bangassou–Rafai road killed 11 civilians.
On May 12–13, suspected self-defense (anti-balaka) fighters attacked the town of Bangassou in Mbomou, targeting the MINUSCA base and the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Tokoyo. At least 115 civilians were killed during the incident. Thousands of civilians fled across the border into DRC’s Bas Uele province, a remote area that has recently experienced cases of Ebola virus disease. From May 16–18, clashes in Bria involving ex-Seleka and self-defense (anti-balaka) fighters killed 17 civilians and displaced 20,000 more. UPC and self-defense (anti-balaka) fighters also clashed on June 6 in Nzako, leading to the deaths of at least 18 civilians, the destruction of homes, and displacement of civilians.