UN forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) have arrested a warlord and eight of his militiamen in connection with the deaths of more than two dozen people in a northeastern town last month, sources said.
A senior humanitarian worker and a source in the United Nations identified the warlord as Azor Kalite, who has played a key part in months-long violence in the region.
Twenty-eight people, at least 21 of whom were civilians, were killed on April 28 in Ndele in fighting between splinter groups of the Popular Front for the Rebirth of the CAR (FPRC), one of the country’s biggest militias.
One group is drawn mainly from the Runga ethnic community, while the other is drawn from the Gula community, according to the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA.
They are fighting over control of the region’s trade and lucrative mineral deposits, it says.
MINUSCA spokesman Vladimir Monteiro said on Wednesday that “nine armed elements” had been arrested “in the Ndele region” the previous day.
He said MINUSCA acted in response to a request by the Special Criminal Court, a tribunal set up in October 2018 to rule on major crimes in the CAR. He did not disclose the identities of those arrested.
Kalite, a Gula, was once a senior member of the Seleka, a predominantly Muslim militia which in 2013 overthrew the then president, Francois Bozize, a Christian, causing the impoverished country to plunge into a bloody spiral.
France intervened militarily from 2013 to 2016 to push out the Seleka, winding down the operation after Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president.
Touadera governs today with the support of a large UN peacekeeping operation, but most of the country is controlled by ex-rebels and militias.
The government signed a peace deal in February 2019 with 14 armed groups, who typically claim to defend the interests of specific communities or religions.
Violence has since generally receded, but there are still bloody flareups, typically sparked by fighting over resources.
Presidential elections are due in December.
CAR prosecutors earlier this month said they had opened a formal investigation for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Ndele killings.
On Sunday, Kalite, speaking to AFP, angrily condemned MINUSCA operations to restore security in Ndele and threatened to stir up protests against the peacekeepers.