Kenya: Rights group says CAR rebel group 'executed at least 32 civilians'

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - A human rights group says a rebel group in the Central African Republic (CAR) executed at least 32 civilians and captured fighters after clashes in December 2016 with another rebel group in the Ouaka province.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement released in Nairobi on Thursday that in the town of Bakala, rebels from the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (l'Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique, UPC), on 12 December, executed 25 people after calling them to a school for an alleged meeting.

Earlier that day, UPC fighters executed seven men who were returning from a nearby gold mine. Accounts of the incidents were provided by a survivor and eight witnesses, including five men who were forced to help dispose of the bodies. At least 29 other civilians have been killed in fighting around Bakala since late November, HRW said.

“These executions are brazen war crimes by UPC fighters who feel free to kill at will,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The group is carrying out its killing sprees with no fear of punishment, despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers.”

HRW said the appointment on 15 February, 2017 of a chief prosecutor for the Special Criminal Court – a court to be staffed with national and international judges and prosecutors in the capital, Bangui, to prosecute grave human rights violations since 2003 – marks an important step towards accountability. "The court should now be further staffed without delay, so it can begin investigations and prosecutions."

The statement said local residents and officials told HRW that tensions between the UPC and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, FPRC), another rebel group drawn from the predominantly Muslim Seleka fighters, began escalating late last year.

Fighting started around Mourouba, 18 kilometers west of Bakala, on November 27, 2016, and the UPC then attacked civilians they suspected of belonging to anti-balaka militia allied with the FPRC.

The FPRC has allied itself with anti-balaka militias, its former enemy, to fight the UPC. The anti-balaka emerged in 2013, largely from existing self-defense groups to resist Seleka abuses, and themselves went on to commit serious abuses against civilians.

HRW said in late January 2017, it interviewed 28 people in and around Bakala, including victims of other UPC crimes, relatives of victims, and UPC commanders.

"The total number of victims is most likely higher than the 32 people executed and the 29 civilians killed during clashes because dozens of other people are unaccounted for, family members of the missing people say. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm all reported killings due to limited access and security concerns," it said.

Under the command of General Ali Darassa Mahamant, the UPC has controlled much of Ouaka province since 2013. The UPC has close links to the minority ethnic Peuhl, and armed Peuhl often fight with the group.

The UN peacekeeping force in the country, the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), has 12,870 armed members and a temporary base in Mourouba.

"Consistent with its mandate, MINUSCA should take active steps to protect civilians, including when necessary by using force," HRW said.

The Central African Republic has been in crisis since late 2012, when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels opened a military campaign against the government of Francois Bozizé. The Seleka seized the capital, Bangui, in March 2013.

Their rule was marked by widespread human rights abuse, including the wanton killing of civilians. In mid-2013, Christian and animist anti-balaka militia organized to fight the Seleka. Associating all Muslims with the Seleka, the anti-balaka carried out large scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians in Bangui and western parts of the country.

In 2014, African Union and French international forces pushed the Seleka out of Bangui. Ethnic divisions, rivalries, disagreements over resource control, and disputes over strategy quickly tore the Seleka apart. By late 2014, the Seleka had split into several factions, each controlling its own area.

In November 2016, skirmishes erupted between two of the factions, the UPC and FPRC, over control of roads leading to diamond mines around Kalaga, a town 45 kilometers from Bria. Both groups collect “road taxes,” especially in mining areas and on migration routes for Peuhl herders. The skirmishes escalated into more serious fighting.
-0- PANA MA 16Feb2017

16 february 2017 11:17:03

xhtml CSS