Peace talks between the government of Mali and northern rebel groups started in Algiers last week. If they are to succeed, the focus should be on effectively initiating the ‘cantonment’ of armed groups, a military process that involves removing them from the conflict zone and restricting their movements.
The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has left humanitarian organisations, international peacekeepers and observers frantically searching for solutions to stop the conflict. Now, to make matters worse,the Afghan Taliban and the notorious al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – which, together with its allies, occupied northern Mali in 2012 – have denounced what it describes as the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Muslims in the CAR. AQIM also issued a warning against France for its alleged complicity in the violence, saying the ‘supposed peacekeepers’ have launched a ‘crusade against Islam’ and that France will be punished for doing so. Given that ordinary Muslims in the CAR are clearly being targeted and tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing the country, should this threat be taken seriously?
David Zounmenou, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) believes that AQIM is still smarting after its defeat against France in Mali last year and that their warnings are not to be taken lightly. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also met last week to discuss the situation in the CAR and has pleaded for dialogue and national reconciliation – another sign that the crisis has now taken a decidedly religious turn. Yet, Zounmenou strongly warns against casting the conflict in the CAR in the same mould as other crises in Africa that are rooted in conflict between locals and radical Islamist groups, such as in Mali or Somalia.
More than 10,000 people fled their homes this week in Mindanao, southern Philippines, as government forces launched a major offensive against Muslim splinter groups opposed to a final peace deal to end decades of insurgency in the island. The country’s capacity to respond to emergencies has been stretched by a series of deadly disasters.
President Benigno Aquino said the offensive was a calculated response against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who had been harassing civilians and troops in the towns of Datu Piang and Pikit, in Maguindanao Province.
Gun battles and heavy exchanges of mortar fire have left at least 37 rebels and one soldier dead since 27 January, and the military said at least three civilians were hurt by an improvised bomb attack near a market, in which seven troops were also injured.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the capital, Manila, said it had requested assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide tents for some 4,200 people in 10 evacuation centres. Another 4,565 people are staying with friends and relatives.
In August, United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos warned that ‘the Central African Republic [CAR] is not yet a failed state, but has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken’. This warning became all the more real when on 13 September Michel Djotodia, the interim president of the CAR, decided to dissolve the rebel coalition Seleka, which he had headed during the December 2012 rebellion that led to the overthrow of General Francois Bozizé, the CAR’s former president.
Through the decision to disband Seleka and by threatening to subject anyone acting on behalf of the rebel movement to the full might of the law, Djotodia has sought to reaffirm his authority in a country that desperately needs credible leaders and functioning institutions. This might also be a charm offensive in response to pressure from regional leaders and external partners. And while his decision could be seen as a bold move to curb the growing number of atrocities committed by members of the armed coalition, the risk of rampant instability or renewed armed conflict looms large.