Integrated Armed Group Leader Increases Civilian Deaths In Central African Republic

Was the African Union-mediated Peace accord signed in February 2018 after a lengthy 18 months talk between 14 armed groups and the central governments to prevent civilian attacks a regrettable step or a commendable action? This remains questionable as one of the three armed-group leaders given a key government position seems to abuse his power.

Since 2002, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been experiencing deadly internal conflicts causing over 1.1 million in a country of five million to either become internally displaced or become refugees in neighbouring countries, mostly in Cameroon. The major causes of the conflict have been related to religious identities, ethnic differences and historical antagonism between the Muslim Séléka rebel fighters and the Christian Anti-balaka militias.

Based on Human Rights Watch’s recent HR findings, Abass, nicknamed as Bi Sidi Souleymane, leader of the 3R armed group, Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation, might still be a threat to the civilian population in CAR. The now General Sidiki Abass, appointed by presidential decree as the military adviser to the prime minister on special mixed units in the northwest zone killed at least 46 civilians on May 21, 2019 in the Ouham Pendé province.

The presumed coordinated attacks happened in Koundjili and Lemouna villages in the town of Bohong the day after Abass held a meeting. Recounting to HRW, some villagers said, “He told us, ‘I came here peacefully, but it is you, the people of Bohong, who have declared war. Now I will show you how to shoot.’”

This prompts the questions: why can Abass not stop his barbaric acts after the peace accord? Are peace accords efficient? Is the peace integration strategy a success or a sham?. Perhaps these are the unanswered worries of all CAR families, especially the widows as their husbands died unexpectedly.

The devastating information HRW received from interviewing 36 people in June, including 12 witnesses to the 3R killings and nine relatives of victims, confirms the gravity of these attacks on civilians.

Despite the presence of 13,677 United Nations troops under the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), with the mandate to maintain the security of civilians, the mass killings of the 3R are still rampant.

Some atrocities committed by the 3Rs include: burning to death a 4o-year-old physically disabled woman, Monique Douma, in her house, forcefully arresting and assassinating some of the male population publicly, killing babies and young children, killing and dumping dead bodies into wells and latrines like that of Evariste Ngororo, a 39-year-old man.

Human Rights Watch CAR director, Lewis Mudge, out right condemned these acts, “The killings of these civilians are war crimes that need to be effectively investigated and those responsible brought to justice,” That the evidence implicates 3R and Abass, who have signed a peace accord designed to end such crimes, makes a prompt and independent investigation all the more urgent.” Also, HRW is calling on the International Criminal Court to prosecute Abass even though he has handed three men to the government as perpetrators of the killings.

Some local officials presume 3R’s May 21 attack was aimed at controlling the regional cattle migration routes. The bottom line remains, attacking and killing each other has not been a solution in decades of instability and will probably not be a sustainable remedy in the future.

Appointing rebel group leaders into government offices was a refined peace tactic but it seems abortive in CAR. Armed groups cannot be eliminated, attacks cannot be prevented, the government and the international community should focus on educating the entire armed group.

Sarah Namondo