Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher at the French International Relations Institute (IFRI), lectures on security issues in Africa. In an interview with JusticeInfo.Net, he is pessimistic about the chances that a ceasefire for the Central African Republic (CAR) signed in Rome on June 19 will be implemented. He says there is no chance of a lasting peace deal so long as armed groups continue to hold sway on the ground. On June 20, only a few hours after the accord was signed, clashes between militia groups left up to a hundred people dead in Bria, in central CAR.
Thierry Vircoulon, researcher at the French International Relations Institute (IFRI)
What do you think are the chances that the latest CAR peace accord signed in Rome under the auspices of Sant'Egidio will be implemented?
The chances that this latest accord will be respected are nil. All the facts point to that. Violent clashes leaving at least 50 people dead took place in Bria only hours after the accord, and it seems that Noureddine Adam, leader of the FPRC* (Popular Front for the Renaissance of the CAR) has already rejected this agreement. There is no reason to believe that the violent competition between armed groups in the east and centre of the country that started in mid-2016 will stop. For them, the stakes remain high (notably in terms of who controls access to certain resources), as do their resentments (especially against their ex-Seleka brothers-in-arms), and their desire to control strategic and commercial urban centres remains intact. Plus, as usual, this accord was not signed by the warlords themselves but by their henchmen. An agreement that is not signed by the real decision makers has little chance of being implemented.
Does this accord offer something new in comparison to previous ones?
Absolutely nothing. It is just a reformulation of the same ideas that we see in previous agreements. We should note that the issue of amnesty is carefully avoided, since it is highly contentious. The signatories pirouette around it by using the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is to make recommendations on the reintegration of leaders from politico-military groups, i.e. the warlords.
Do you think the international community is exerting all the diplomatic and military pressure needed to stop the violence?
No. In fact the UN has very limited capacity to contain the armed groups and no capacity to influence them. The May attack on the town of Bangassou, the fact that this town is still held by Anti-balaka** a month later and that several UN peacekeepers were hacked to death with machetes is proof of the UN’s ineffectiveness. The balance of power on the ground is currently in favour of the armed groups. Not only have the UN peacekeepers shown several times that they cannot protect the population, but the ambush in which 5 of their men lost their lives in early May shows that they cannot even protect themselves. MINUSCA (UN peacekeeping force in the CAR) does not have the military capacity to take back control of the towns currently subject to the violence of the armed groups (Bria, Bangassou, Alindao, etc.). So we can say that the international community is not exerting the necessary pressure to stop the violence.
What do you think is the solution to the CAR’s crisis, which has lasted much too long?
There can be no credible negotiations or peace accord so long as the balance of power remains in favour of the armed groups. The international community (i.e. the decision-making countries at the UN) must decide to dedicate the resources to change this balance of power in favour of the UN peacekeepers. It is only under pressure that the armed groups will be forced to negotiate for real. The various mediators (Sant’Egidio, the African Union, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, etc.) are condemned to keep sponsoring useless agreements so long as the armed groups are the strongest on the ground. The CAR’s crisis is following the same pattern as that in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where MONUSCO (UN peacekeeping force in the DRC) only managed once to get the upper hand over armed groups in 2013 against the M23 (rebel group defeated a year after its creation in the eastern DRC).
*The Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC) is one of the main factions springing from the ex-Seleka, the rebel coalition that ousted President François Bozizé in March 2013. The Seleka rebels, accused of numerous grave human rights abuses against civilians, met resistance from **Anti-balaka self-defence groups who also committed violent acts against the civilian population.