By Katharina Nachbar – The unanimous vote Thursday by the U.N. Security Council to authorize an African Union peacekeeping mission backed by French soldiers in the Central African Republic is good news for the 4.6 million people of the nation plagued by months of instability and sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian communities. However, major challenges remain.
The fighting has forced an estimated 465,000 people from their homes and created a massive humanitarian crisis that has resulted in large-scale looting, summary executions, widespread sexual violence and the forced recruitment of roughly 6,000 child-soldiers, according to the U.N. The unstable security situation has rendered humanitarian access to displaced populations extremely difficult. Adequate funding for an effective international relief effort is still lacking.
The current African peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic has been unable to confront armed combatants or protect civilians due to a lack of capacity, training and experience. The original force, which now stands at around 2,800 uniformed personnel from neighboring countries, was deployed in 2008 with an intention to exit by 2012, but never left.
Under the U.N. Security Council resolution adopted Thursday, the force will be enlarged and backed by an additional 1,200 French troops to join the 600 French personnel already in the Central African Republic, a former French colony.
Should the strengthened African force prove insufficient to restore security and protect the civilian population, the option of transforming it into a U.N. peacekeeping mission remains on the table.
Any peacekeeping force faces multiple challenges in the country:
The Central African Republic is larger than France. A peacekeeping force will have to be sufficiently strong and mobile to deploy rapidly to remote areas, despite a lack of basic state infrastructure.
The institutions in the Central African Republic are so weak that it will be almost impossible for a peacekeeping force to quickly withdraw and safely hand over power to a newly elected government in the short term. The U.N. needs to prepare for a long-term commitment to disarmament and demobilization of combatants and reforming government institutions such as the police, army and judicial system.
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This op-ed was first published in the International Business Times on Dec. 5, 2013
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