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UN chief warns against aiding Central African Republic militias

Source: Reuters - Mon, 31 Mar 2014 21:19 GMT
Author: Reuters
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A woman carries her belongings on a dirt road of the outskirts of the capital Bangui March 22, 2014. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
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(Adds detail on Bangui killings)

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, March 31 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Monday against any support or facilitation of violence by armed groups in Central African Republic after Chadian troops were accused of opening fire on civilians and killing at least 10 people at the weekend.

The shooting on Saturday was the latest in a string of violent incidents involving Chadian troops, who Central African Republic's anti-balaka Christian militia accuse of siding with Muslims and Seleka rebels and preying upon the local Christians.

The mainly Muslim Seleka seized power a year ago, perpetrating abuses on the majority Christian population that triggered waves of revenge attacks, leading to thousands of deaths and displacing hundreds of thousands.

"The secretary-general reminds all those who are involved in spreading the violence, including those directly or indirectly supporting or otherwise facilitating the actions of armed groups, that they will be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice," Ban's press office said in a statement.

Ban also urged the quick establishment of a list of individuals to be sanctioned by the United Nations for undermining peace, stability and security in Central African Republic.

"The secretary-general is concerned by the latest upsurge in violence in the Central African Republic ... This further deterioration of the security situation in the country has resulted in additional fatalities, a high number of injured, and increased hardship for the population," Ban's statement said.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Central Africa Republic since the conflict began, Human Rights Watch has said, while top U.N. officials have warned that the violence in the large, sparsely-populated country of 4.5 million people is in danger of spiralling into a genocide.

Sebastien Wenezoui, a spokesman for anti-balaka forces, told Reuters by telephone 27 people died in the incident and the death toll could rise because others were seriously wounded.

There was no independent confirmation of that toll and in a sign of the dispute over the incident former government minister General Mohammed Dhaffane said the dead included 12 anti-balaka fighters who had staged an ambush against troops from Chad escorting civilians.

A spokesman for medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres said 28 people were wounded on Saturday in Bangui including 16 women and four children.

U.N. PEACEKEEPERS

Under international pressure, the Seleka rebels gave way in January to an interim civilian government. But the government - backed by 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union peacekeepers - has been unable to halt attacks by the anti-balaka militias on Muslims, thousands of whom have fled to neighbouring countries or sought shelter in camps.

The European Union has agreed to send up to 1,000 troops to help the African and French forces. The goal of the EU force will be to provide security in the capital Bangui and at the airport, where around 70,000 people who have fled the violence are living in dire conditions.

The United Nations estimates some 650,000 people have been displaced within Central African Republic, while nearly 300,000 have fled to neighbouring states. U.N. agencies have reported a sharp rise in rape and sexual violence in the camps.

The U.N. Security Council began negotiations on Monday on a resolution to approve the creation of a U.N. peacekeeping force in the country, which could assume authority from the African Union on Sept. 15, said Luxembourg's Ambassador to the U.N., Sylvie Lucas, who is president of the council for March.

Ban proposed to the 15-member council earlier this month that a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force would be needed for Central African Republic with a robust mandate and an initial focus on protecting civilians.

"There is now, I think, a large understanding in the council and large consensus for having such a peacekeeping operation deployed as quickly as possible," Lucas told reporters. "Everybody agrees the situation is dire." (Additional reporting by Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Accra; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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