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Central African Republic - Security Environment

The disasters that the Central African Republic endures are not natural or caused by external political forces, but are rather man-made and indigenous. The numerous rebel groups compete with the government and each other not on the basis of ideological differences, but due to the personal ambitions of their leaders and competition over natural resources (diamond mines in particular). With the exception of sporadic LRA activity in the sparsely populated far east, conflict within the CAR has caused extensive problems and outward refugee flows towards Chad in the north and Sudan in the northeast. The CARG was quick to request assistance while at the same time attempting to extort money from international firms that would employ thousands of Central Africans and contribute millions to the treasury if allowed to do business.

The Chinese have steadily increased their visibility and influence in the CAR, a country rich in untapped natural resources. With French investments moribund and French influence in general decline, the Chinese are likely positioning themselves as the CAR's primary benefactor in exchange for access to the CAR's ample deposits of uranium, gold, iron, diamonds, and possibly oil. Although Chinese aid and investment was unlikely to come with troublesome caveats regarding democratic practices and economic transparency, they are apparently interested in promoting the pacification of troubled areas in northern CAR in order to protect their own interests and personnel.

The estimated population of Central African Republic was 4.4 million people, with an average life expectancy of 44 years. Following the 2003 coup, the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC - Communaute Economique et Monetaire de l'Afrique Centrale) and C.A.R. armed forces assumed responsibility for securing the capital city. The Economic Community of Central African States (known by its French acronym, CEEAC) took over the CEMAC forces in 2008 and established the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX). MICOPAX forces totalled approximately 500 soldiers as of early 2012 and were supported by an additional 250 French soldiers. Military cooperation and training programs exist between the C.A.R. armed forces and France, South Africa, Greece, China, Morocco, and other nations.

In 2007, the United Nations and the European Union authorized the deployment of a multidimensional security and police presence in eastern Chad and northeastern C.A.R. with a civilian and humanitarian protection mandate. The UN component of the mission (MINURCAT) consisted of police deployed to Chad only and a multi-dimensional liaison office deployed in Chad and C.A.R. The Security Council's resolution 1861--which authorized the deployment of a military component of MINURCAT to follow up a European Union Force (EUFOR) in both Chad and the Central African Republic--extended MINURCAT's mandate for a period of 12 months beyond its March 2009 expiration.

Under military restructuring plans formulated 1999-2000, the civilian Minister of Defense controlled and directed all armed forces, including the Presidential Security Unit (UPS), which had previously been seen as a militia supporting the president. This distinction has become somewhat blurred in recent years, as President Bozize holds the title of Minister of Defense and President and his son, Jean Francis Bozize, was the Deputy Minister of Defense. As of August 2009, the US State Departement estimated that the C.A.R. armed forces numbered about 7,000, including army, navy, air force, gendarmerie, national police, Presidential Guard, and local police personnel. As of 2008, the US Department of Defense estimated that the Central African Armed Forces (CAAF) was composed of 15,000 personnel. The Central African Republic allocates 1.1% of the GDP for military expenditures. As of 2006, the US Department of Defense estimated that the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) had approximately 3000 members.

While the Ministry of Defense may claim some 8,000 soldier and gendarmes, as of 2009 the Deputy Minister freely admitted that only a bare 3,000 were actually capable of operations for a country the size of Texas. This meant approximately one soldier or gendarme per 207 square kilometers. Additionally, their level of training and equipment was minimal. The international forces of MICOPAX and MINURCAT were even less effective as neither was large enough to cover the entire CAR. Moreover, the former lacked the will to intervene and the latter lacked the mandate, as MINURCAT was limited to operating in only a small area in the extreme northeast of the country. It was thus important that one understands that the international forces in the CAR cannot or will not solve the problems of banditry and rebellion.

Members of northern ethnic groups, especially President Bozize's Baya ethnic group, continued to predominate among the National Army. The recruitment of its staff had always been done on a clan basis, and had been nepotistic and tribal.

During 2005, particularly around the time of the first round of voting in the March presidential elections, ethnic tensions within the armed forces resulted in the beating of several military personnel of the Yakoma ethnicity, the ethnicity of former president and 2005 presidential candidate Andre Kolingba, by non-Yakoma military personnel. For example on March 20, days after the first round of presidential election voting, two unidentified military officers of the Gbaya ethnicity, the ethnicity of President Bozize, beat Sergeant Marcel Kila, a Yakoma, near the Berengo military training center

By 2013 the CAR’s army committed bullying, harassment, and antisocial behavior; it engaged in humiliating and degrading acts against our population, and made people slaves in their own territory; it killed, pillaged, raped, and destroyed the homes and property of the population with impunity; it indulged in heinous and criminal acts. The CAR army had always suffered from the problem of training, logistics, and being under-staffed. It retreated with the advance of rebel factions.

But with the takeover of the Seleka rebel coalition, the national army’s problems had gotten even worse. It is now bedridden, having contracted the “Selekamania” disease. The national army was a mixture of elements of the Seleka coalition combined with the regular national forces. This is where the biggest obstacle lies: How to restructure an army that is composed of both a mixture of unarmed elements of the Seleka coalition along with the regular forces of the CAR army?

The UN took over EUFOR's military role in the region on March 15, 2009. MINURCAT was authorized to establish a presence in Birao in northeastern Central African Republic to create a more secure environment, protect civilians and humanitarian workers in danger; and to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its staff and United Nations and associated personnel. At the behest of the Chadian Government, MINURCAT departed Chad, and as a result the C.A.R., in late 2010.

The Central African Republic has tried without much luck to clean up its reputation as the smugglers haven and corruption ridden country. Central African Republic was a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation; the majority of victims are children trafficked within the country for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, street vending, and forced agricultural, mine, market and restaurant labor; to a lesser extent, children are trafficked from the Central African Republic to Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; rebels conscript children into armed forces within the country.

Spontaneous demonstrations take place in the CAR from time-to-time in response to world events or local developments. Armed rebel groups, bandits, and poachers present real dangers, and the Central African government was unable to guarantee the safety of visitors in most parts of the country. Northwestern and eastern CAR, especially the areas bordering Chad and Sudan, are particularly dangerous due to clashes between government and rebel forces. The continued presence of the Lord's Resistance Army in eastern CAR poses a particular safety and security threat. Bandits, militias, and cross-border rebel activity in the north and northeast also threaten the security of residents and travelers. Travel to these regions was strongly discouraged. Bangui itself, though safer, suffers from elevated crime rates, as well as severely limited transport and medical options. The CAR military and civilian security forces (and people posing as such) staff checkpoints throughout the city, frequently harassing local and expatriate travelers for bribes.

During previous periods of civil unrest and conflict, including most recently in 2011 and 2012, citizens engaged in violent, sometimes deadly, demonstrations which included widespread looting, burning of buildings and blocking of roads. In the northern and western parts of the country, there are frequent reports of armed robbery and kidnapping by highway bandits (called “coupeurs de routes” or “zaraguinas”), especially during the December to May dry season. When a crime does occur in Bangui, the victim may have to pay to send a vehicle to pick up police officers due to the shortage of police vehicles and fuel. Corruption remains a serious problem among the CAR security forces, some members of which have harassed travelers for bribes. At night, the roads in the capital are often manned with impromptu checkpoints, at which police or soldiers ask motorists and travelers for money.

Although most observers agree that a successful disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration DDR) process was vital to create a stable environment, the DDR process continued to experience delays. The DDR process was estimated to require a total of US$27 million. Financial support came from the UN Peace Building Fund, sub-regional organizations such as the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) and the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC), and neighboring countries, but a funding gap still remained by the end of 2009.

Rebels and armed groups routinely restricted movement by setting roadblocks or otherwise closing transit routes. Merchants and traders traveling the more than 350-mile route from Bangui to Bangassou encountered an average of 25 military barriers. While the fees extorted varied for private passengers, commercial vehicles reported paying fees of up to 9,000 to 10,000 CFA francs ($18 to $20) at each checkpoint to continue their journeys.

Prison conditions were rudimentary, harsh, and substantially below international standards. Prison conditions outside Bangui generally were worse than those in the capital. Police, gendarme investigators, and presidential guards assigned as prison wardens continued to subject prison inmates to torture and other forms of inhuman, cruel, and degrading treatment. Most prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electric lighting, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Prison recordkeeping was inadequate and largely nonexistent. Conditions in detention centers were worse than those in prisons. Corruption among guards was pervasive. Escapes by detainees, including incarcerated members of the armed forces, are prevalent.

Authorities continued to arrest individuals, particularly women, and charge them with witchcraft, an offense punishable by execution, although no one received the death penalty during 2011. There were two prisons in Bangui, Ngaragba Prison for men and Bimbo Central Prison for women [Bimbo (also, Bimo) was the capital of Ombella-M'poko, one of the 14 prefectures of the Central African Republic, and the one in which the capital of Bangui was located]. Prison officials at Bimbo Central Prison for women stated that accused witches were detained for their own safety, since village mobs sometimes killed suspected witches. In November 2011 prison authorities stated that six of the 30 women in Bimbo Central Prison were incarcerated for purported witchcraft. In Ngaragba Prison there were 17 detainees held on witchcraft-related charges.

In April near Kaga Bandoro, the People's Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD), a nonstate armed entity, arrested and reportedly tortured a man for allegedly practicing witchcraft. APRD members tied the man to a tree, beat him and cut off two of his toes to force a confession. After confessing, the man escaped, and the APRD responded by arresting his mother and reportedly torturing her. No further information was available at year's end. In May near Kaga Bandoro the APRD arrested a man for alleged shape shifting, a form of witchcraft. When he managed to flee, the APRD arrested his mother, stripped her naked, beat her, and forced her to pay a fine of 100,000 CFA francs ($200) before releasing her.

State security forces and members of nonstate armed entities, including Chadian soldiers and bandits, continued to attack cattle herders, primarily members of the Mbororo ethnic group. Many observers believed Mbororo were targeted primarily because of their perceived foreign origins, relative wealth, and the vulnerability of cattle to theft. One UN agency reported that, according to its NGO partners in the affected region, Mbororo cattle herders were also disproportionately subjected to kidnapping for ransom. A UN agency working in the area indicated the perpetrators often kidnapped women and children and held them for ransoms of between one million and two million CFA francs ($2,000-$4,000). Victims whose families did not pay were sometimes killed. Nonstate armed entities in the country continued to conduct frequent attacks on the Mbororo population on the Cameroonian side of the border, despite the Cameroonian government's deployment of security forces.

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