C.Africa authorities and UN vow to disarm flashpoint district
The government and United Nations forces in the Central African Republic will ban guns from a flashpoint district in the capital where new clashes have claimed dozens of lives, the UN mission said Tuesday.
The mainly-Muslim PK5 district in Bangui is a notorious trigger for violence in the CAR, one of the world's poorest and most volatile countries.
"Any armed person will be disarmed or neutralised," Bili Aminou Alao, spokesperson for the UN force MINUSCA, told AFP.
On December 26, fighting erupted between local militiamen and traders angered by extortion.
More than 30 people have been killed, according to the Red Cross and a local imam, Awad Al Karim, and several dozen stores have been burned.
The CAR government will deploy patrols by the Domestic Security Forces (FSI) -- police and gendarmes -- and a police commissioner will be sent to PK5, the MINUSCA spokesman said.
"The ball is in the camp" of the armed groups, he said. "We are waiting for their members to come along with their weapons and lay them down."
The CAR has been gripped by sporadic violence since 2014, after then-president Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup.
Fierce fighting then erupted between predominantly Christian and Muslim militia, prompting the intervention of former colonial power France, under a UN mandate.
Most the country lies in the hands of armed groups, who often fight over the country's mineral resources.
The PK5 district, where many Muslim traders took refuge in 2013, is a trigger point.
In April 2018, MINUSCA launched a crackdown on militia there in response to appeals by local traders.
But the operation ended bloodily with about 30 deaths, sparking anger among local people.
A fragile calm returned to the streets of PK5 on Tuesday and the markets reopened, despite the destruction, several traders contacted by AFP said.
Youssouf Djibrine, head of the traders' association in PK5, was cautious, recalling the failure of the April 2018 operation, codenamed Sukula ("cleanup" in the national language of Sango).
"MINUSCA has to honour what it says" about disarming, he said. "I can still see danger."
The local imam, Al Karim, was more optimistic, saying that Tuesday's announcement was "a major step forward."
Several militiamen, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said they were keen on giving up their weapons and integrating civilian life.
A "disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration" (DDR) programme is being funded to the tune of $30 million by the World Bank, aiming to encourage 9,000 militiamen to return to civilian life.