Hope as C. Africa holds disarmanent talks

AFP , Saturday 22 Apr 2017

The Central African Republic held unprecedented talks with armed groups this week seeking to speed up disarmament in a country struggling to turn the page on years of bloodshed, officials said Saturday.

For the first time since the disarmament process began, the government -- facing a resurgence of violence since last September -- sat down with representatives of 14 armed groups in Bangui on Thursday and Friday.

"General progress has been quite substantial," said Jean-Marc Tafani, head of the disarmament process for the UN peacekeeping mission in Central Africa, MINUSCA.

The national plan for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) "was drawn up with details of steps to implement the project," he added.

Responding to concerns that former fighters could escape unpunished under the process, Tafani said "people suspected of various crimes will be brought to justice," and "kept out of the DDR programme," although he noted that during this week's talks "certain groups said they were against this".

President Faustin-Archange Touadera has repeatedly stressed the importance of the DDR since he took power last year in a country scarred by conflict since the 2013 overthrow of former president Francois Bozize by a Muslim-dominated rebellion.

A counter-offensive by majority Christian militias left thousands dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

The nation breathed a sigh of relief in March 2016 when Touadera took office, with a mandate to lead the country through its transition to peace.

But Central Africa's war wounds have proved hard to heal, with swathes of the country still facing unrest.

Since November, violence has raged in the central Ouaka region, leaving hundreds dead and many more injured.

Due to the rise of violence, coupled with a shortfall in aid funding, the humanitarian situation in the country has taken a turn for the worse.

The UN says some 2.2 million people -- more than half the population -- remain in dire need of assistance.

While parts of the country remain wracked by violence, a military intervention in 2013 by France and MINUSCA restored relative calm to the capital Bangui.

But since France withdrew in October, and with the Central African army still under an international arms embargo, UN peacekeepers are now the sole functioning force on the ground.

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