UN sets course towards easing CAR arms embargo

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The United Nations Security Council is set to open the door to an easing of the arms embargo on the Central African Republic five years after the country stood on the verge of genocide.

The government in Bangui has repeatedly called for the restrictions to be lifted to allow arms supplies to shore up its security forces fighting armed groups that control much of the strife-scarred country.

The council will on Thursday vote on a French-drafted resolution that calls for a review of the arms embargo by September if the government meets benchmarks in managing weapons, disarming armed groups and reforming its security sector, according to the text seen by AFP news agency on Wednesday.

The draft resolution would renew the embargo until January 2020 but open the door to a partial lifting that would allow the government to buy weapons without seeking approval from the UN sanctions committee.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will submit a report by the end of July on whether the government has met the benchmarks after Bangui presents its own findings by June 30.

Diplomats said on Wednesday they expect the measure to be adopted.

“We think it’s a good idea to have a review of the embargo,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told AFP news agency.

Russia has stepped up its presence in the Central African Republic, offering training to troops and brokering peace talks with armed groups, sparking tensions with France, the former colonial power.

The UN arms embargo was imposed in 2013 when the country descended into bloodletting after President Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.

Addressing appeals from the Bangui government, the UN sanctions committee has granted exemptions to allow shipments of weapons from France, Russia, China, the United States and Belgium to the poorly-equipped army.

Averting genocide

Thousands of people have been killed during the violence in the Central African Republic, one of Africa’s poorest countries. A quarter of its 4.5 million people have fled their homes because of the violence.

At the height of the bloodshed in 2013, France warned that the country was on the verge of genocide with reports of atrocities committed by roaming armed groups.

In 2017, a similar warning came from then-UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien.

The vote at the council comes as the latest round of peace talks between the government and armed groups stumbled in Khartoum over demands for an amnesty for rebel commanders.

The Sudan-hosted talks which opened last week are expected to continue for up to three weeks.

The draft resolution also renews the mandate of a panel of experts who reported to the council last month that fighters of the former Seleka alliance had received fresh weapons supplies from traffickers in Sudan.

The armed groups are rearming to counter the deployment of the newly-trained and equipped government troops to their areas of influence, the panel’s report said.

Troops trained by Russia and the European Union are backed by the 13,000-strong UN mission in CAR, which supports the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadera.