Before the end of the year the Central African Republic will begin disarming illegal groups in the western part of the country, UN envoy Parfait Onanga-Anyanga told the Security Council Tuesday.
There has been progress in starting a peace process since a UN peacekeeping force was established in the CAR in 2014 to stamp out inter-communal violence in the country, Onanga-Anyanga said.
"This progress that we have made together makes me hopeful that we have laid the foundations needed to build sustainable peace," he said.
A half-dozen armed groups have committed to a national disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion program, Onanga-Anyanga said.
"The government will begin the disarmament of certain of these groups in the west of the country before the end of the year," he said.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre emphasized, however, that "the message to the armed groups must be clear.
"They must lay down their arms and join the peace process without delay and without conditions, and know that the violence they engage in will not go unpunished," he said.
Since 2013, much of the Central African Republic has been at the mercy of armed groups that plunder the country's gold, diamond and oil deposits, posing a formidable obstacle to peace and national reconciliation.
Many of these groups claim to protect Christian or Muslim communities, and often battle over resources.
Onanga-Anyanga pointed to the opening session Monday of a long-planned Special Criminal Court in Central Africa as an "important step" against impunity.
The court consists of 25 judges -- 13 from the CAR and 12 foreigners -- and will decide cases involving violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed in the country since 2003.
One of the world's poorest and most unstable countries, the CAR spiralled into bloodshed after longtime leader Francois Bozize was overthrown in 2013 by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance called the Seleka.