U N soldiers were forced to use an attack helicopter to stop heavily armed rebels from entering the city of Bambari in the Central African Republic (CAR). Despite the election of former Maths Professor Faustin-Archange Touadéra as president in March 2016, peace has largely evaded the former French colony. Government control is limited to Bangui, the southeastern capital, outside of which militias hold swathes of territory.
Bambari, capital of the central Ouaka province, contains 13,000 UN peacekeepers but has been under siege by the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC). The Front was formed by former members of the Muslim ‘Séléka’ alliance which launched a coup against President François Bozize in 2013, sparking a backlash from a predominantly Christian militia known as Anti-balaka, a term derived from a local language meaning anti-machete and anti-AK . The violence descended into sectarian and ethnic bloodshed in which over 3,000 people died.
But the dynamic has changed since 2013, in part because the FPRC fell out with a former ally over resources. Lewis Mudge, Central Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The World Weekly that this heavy infighting shows the group “really has no political ideology and only exists to pillage and profit”. Indeed, he explained, it has now allied with some anti-balaka groups, many of whom say they “have no problem with Muslims”.
CAR’s mineral riches add to the potential for violence. The FPRC wants to control Bambari because it is close to the Ndassima gold mine and large iron ore deposits as well as sugar plantations in the same province.
The attack risks forcing even more people from their homes in one of the poorest countries in the world. Currently 10% of CAR’s population of 411,000 is internally displaced. But the UN presence is attempting to keep a lid on the situation and Mr. Mudge believes that “there is real hope that the town, and Ouaka province, could be emerging from years of war and conflict”.