UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council warned Monday that armed groups violating a 2019 peace agreement in the Central African Republic could face international sanctions, and it urged all signatories to stick to their commitments and respond to cease-fire calls.
The council in a statement welcomed progress in implementing the agreement between the government and 14 armed groups. But it strongly condemned violations by some armed groups, including attacks against civilians, suspending participation in the accord, and fights over territory.
Council members said it’s imperative to hold accountable those responsible for violating human rights and international humanitarian law.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the council the security situation “remains volatile, due to continued threats posed primarily by armed groups and militias against civilians, humanitarian workers, state authority and peacekeepers.”
He began his briefing strongly condemning an ambush Sunday of a joint U.N. peacekeeping and national defense forces patrol in northwest Nana-Mambéré prefecture, allegedly by fighters from the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation armed group known as 3R, that killed two Central African Republic soldiers and injured seven others.
In the northwest, 3R — a signatory to the peace agreement — is continuing to expand and challenge state authority, Lacroix said.
In the northeast, he said violent clashes between rival factions of the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central Africa, or FPRC, that began in April “have exacerbated communal tensions in the region and led to mass displacement of population.” FPRC is also a signatory to the February 2019 agreement.
Mineral-rich Central African Republic has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back, resulting in the killing of thousands and the displacement of thousands.
The country saw a period of relative peace in late 2015 and 2016, but violence intensified and spread afterward, and since the signing of the peace agreement intermittent serious incidents of violence and human rights violations have continued.
Lacroix said some armed groups, including signatories to the peace agreement, have acknowledged U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ March 23 appeal for a global cease-fire “while at the same time using violence for expansionist aims.”
He said the political situation in the country “remains fragile,” dominated by preparations for presidential and legislative elections scheduled for December.
“Political tensions were amplified by an attempt by a group of parliamentarians from the presidential majority to extend the tenures of the president and the National Assembly in the event that the elections cannot be held within constitutional timelines due to ‘unforeseen circumstances,’” Lacroix said. “The proposal was rejected by the Constitutional Court on June 5, which has helped to de-escalate political tension.”
The U.N. peacekeeping chief said “political parties are forming coalitions, increasing public statements, announcing candidacies for the presidential elections and challenging legal frameworks for the elections.”
To ease tensions, he said, there have been several joint engagements with the government, presidential majority, opposition parties and civil society organizations. But he stressed that all key players need to increase efforts “to find constructive and consensual solutions to these political and other issues, and refrain from any destabilization activity.”
Lacroix called on the Security Council and the international community “to be vigilant and remain engaged as we approach these crucial elections.”
He said “important progress” has been made on electoral preparations including Monday’s launch of voter registration.
The Security Council welcomed the progress and called on the international community to scale up financial and technical support for the elections.
Council members urged the government and all parties “to ensure dialogue and political consensus for the holding of peaceful, free and inclusive elections, within the constitutional timelines, and to address any outstanding issues through peaceful dialogue and legal procedures.”
The council also strongly cautioned against any attempt to destabilize government institutions as well as “disinformation campaigns and incitement to violence.”