Calls for stronger role for UN force as Guterres ends C.Africa trip
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Friday came under pressure to overhaul the role of UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic as he wrapped up a visit to the conflict-torn country.
Guterres's four-day visit came ahead of a Security Council decision on whether to renew the mandate of the UN's peacekeeping force and meet a request for reinforcements.
In a meeting with the secretary general, a group of lawmakers called on the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA to be more active in tackling violence.
"There's been a lot of words (about MINUSCA) but we are waiting for them to be transcribed into acts," said the head of the National Assembly, Abdoul Karim Meckassoua.
"What is the mandate for this force? Can't we do more or do things better?" he asked.
MINUSCA has come under verbal attack for perceived passivity or even collusion in the face of militia violence, and its troops accused of sexual abuse and rape.
In June, a 600-member battalion from Republic of Congo was sent home after being accused of sexual assaults and trafficking. In 2016, 120 Congolese peacekeepers were sent back for the same reasons.
Former prime minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele urged MINUSCA to "replicate" the successful operations in the towns of Bambari and Bocaranga that chased out militia groups.
Mired in poverty but rich in minerals, CAR has been battered by a three-year conflict between rival militias that began after then-president Francois Bozize was overthrown.
Under a UN mandate, the former colonial power France intervened to push out the Muslim Seleka rebels who had taken over, and the UN launched a peacekeeping mission in 2014.
'Instrumental in protecting civilians'
But the country remains deeply unstable, with armed groups controlling most of the country, and the role of UN peacekeepers is under close scrutiny.
Thousands of civilians have lost their lives and half a million people have been displaced out of a population of roughly 4.5 million.
In Friday's meeting, Guterres pointed to the death of 12 MINUSCA troops who have been killed in CAR this year.
"There certainly are things that must be improved... but let's be fair, look at the sacrifice made by such a large number of soldiers," he said.
On Wednesday, Guterres had visited Bangassou, a predominantly Christian town of 35,000 people around 700 kilometres (435 miles) east of Bangui that has been one of the areas worst hit by violence.
He spoke to displaced people, most of them Muslim, who have holed up in a Catholic seminary and fear bloody attacks by the anti-Balaka, a nominally Christian militia.
The UN Security Council is to decide whether to renew the mandate, which expires on November 15, of the 10,000 MINUSCA troops, who are part of 12,500-member peacekeeping force.
Guterres is lobbying for the mandate to be renewed and for an additional 900 troops to be sent to the country.
The watchdog group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday threw its weight behind the appeal.
"United Nations peacekeepers have been instrumental in protecting civilians in many instances," HRW said.
"The 15-member Council should give the peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, the additional resources the UN says it needs to protect civilians from attacks, including sexual abuse."
The group added that it documented the killings by armed groups of at least 249 civilians since May, most in the south-central and southeastern parts of the country, and 25 cases of rape by militiamen in the southern prefecture of Basse-Kotto.