Peacekeeping: December 6, 2003


France consulted with the European Community on how to equip and increase the size of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic. The French, concerned about security for the upcoming elections, have been doing what they can to 'Africanize' the security forces in the country. They had started training three CAR army battalions, as well as 30 gendarmerie (militarized police) units to be deployed across the country.

The 380-man CEMAC force was set up in December 2002 to protect then-President Patasse. The force now has 139 Gabonese troops, 121 from the Republic of Congo and 120 from Chad. France was and remains the only donor country supporting CEMAC, with about 200 soldiers in Bangui providing logistics aid. There have been several appeals for more men and equipment. 

With the March 2003 coup that brought former army chief of staff Francois Bozize to power, regional heads of state mandated the CEMAC force secure Bangui, provincial towns and major transport routes across the country. That's a lot to ask of an understrength infantry battalion with troops coming from four countries.

One security problem is cattle rustling in the lawless north. The livestock sector (which contributes 11 percent to the gross domestic product) is among the worst affected by the civil war, with 40 percent to 50 percent of the cattle killed during the fighting between October 2002 to March 2003 

The cattle herders' encampments are generally inaccessible to army or CEMAC patrols, due to bad or non-existent roads. While some herdsmen have formed self defense units of 20 men each, they are armed with bows and arrows (obviously ineffective against automatic weapons). Meanwhile, the cattle raiders have more weapons, more ammunition and have even gone into the business of raising their own herds.

Part of the problem is the Army's lack of motivation. Herdsmen have complained that government troops had always claimed that they needed food and money before they could intervene. The troops also allegedly resorted to extortion or outright theft of the rural folk.

Sometimes the army simply added to the primary problem of common armed thuggery. Home invaders wearing bits of military uniform killed a Chadian CEMAC soldier, when his 10-man squad attempted to rescue a 14-year-old girl from rape in a Bangui suburb on November 23. They had gone to rescue the family of a gendarmerie officer whose home was under armed attack by the robbers and were themselves ambushed at 3AM. No other soldiers were wounded and none of the robbers had been arrested. 

This was the third gang-rape incident by armed men in Bangui within a month. On October 28, five CAR soldiers gang-raped a woman in another suburb. They have since been dismissed from the army and will be put on trial. - Adam Geibel




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