BANGUI, 11 January 2012 (IRIN) - Among the most pressing security threats in the Central African Republic (CAR) is a Chadian armed group active in the north of the country, which allegedly continues to recruit and acquire weapons, despite having undertaken to return to Chad.
On 26 December, members of this group, the Front Populaire Pour le Redressement (FPR - Popular Front for Recovery) clashed with fighters of a domestic insurgency, the Front Démocratique du Peuple Centrafricain (FDPC - the Central African People's Democratic Front) in the northern village of Vafio, on the road between Kabo and Batafongo, according to a bulletin released by the country's Humanitarian Development Partnership Team, which said two FPR fighters were killed.
The prospect of retaliatory attacks by both sides led the UN to suspend movement along the road.
According to unconfirmed press reports, four civilians were killed and several houses burnt a few days later when 300 FPR elements attacked the town of Kabo.
"Panic gripped the town after these criminals burned one of their victims alive," one report quoted Kabo's deputy mayor, Philippe Gonzay, as saying.
"The population can no longer go about its daily business. We regret that the security forces present in the region did not react to these rebel attacks on the civilian population," he said.
The FPR, which arrived from Chad in 2008, has also been implicated in security incidents in the central province of Ouaka, where a November 2011 report by local officials said the group "had taken up position in several villages and settlements where they extorted more than 900 cattle, several motorbikes and a large sum of money".
According to local sources, the FPR has also conscripted members of the Peul community, an ethnic group - sometimes called Fulani - present in many West African states, as well as CAR, Chad and Niger. The FPR claims to be protecting the wider Peul community.
In a 21 December resolution, the UN Security Council expressed "deep concern" about the "extensive recruitment and the acquisition of weapons by the FPR, which threaten peace and security in the Central African Republic and the region and constitute violations of the commitments made by the FPR to lay down its weapons and enter into discussions towards peace in the Final Communiqué signed on 13 June 2011 by FPR leader Baba Laddé and the national mediators of Chad and the Central African Republic".
The resolution went on to condemn "human rights violations perpetrated by the FPR, and [to encourage] the Government of the Central African Republic to continue to liaise with the Government of Chad to reach a solution".
According to the 13 June communiqué, a peace agreement was supposed to have been reached within a month on the understanding that this would lead to the return to Chad of 400-500 FPR fighters.
A 28 November Secretary-General's report to the Security Council said talks aimed at implementing the agreement had stalled, "mainly over the issue of security guarantees for the return of Baba Laddé to Chad".
The same report said a faction of another armed group, the Armée populaire pour la restauration de la démocratie (APRD - the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy), had said it would only join in a national programme of disarmament and demobilization if the FPR returned to Chad.
Two days after the report was released, CAR President Francois Bozizé said of the FPR, "We will resume previous negotiations to send them back to Chad and if the dialogue fails we will take this matter into our own hands."
But, as the Security Council report underlined, a "serious security vacuum in many parts of the country" is a direct result of "the lack of state authority outside the capital. The national security and defence forces, which should function as primary security providers in the remote areas of the country, are under-resourced and largely incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities."
While the Secretary-General's report noted "significant progress" in disarming former combatants in CAR, the head of the UN Peacebuilding Office in the country, Margaret Vogt, warned of the dangers of under-funding this process.
"Failure to consolidate security in the CAR would increase its attractiveness as a safe haven for regional brigands and rebel groups operating in the region," she said on 14 December.
For his part, Laddé denies accusations of abusing civilians, and recently told a local radio station his group was working to protect people from criminal gangs - known as Zaraguinas - which have long preyed on civilians in several parts of the country.