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USIS Washington File

26 October 1999

U.N. Looking to Continue Assistance to Central African Republic

(Security Council approves gradual withdrawal of peacekeepers) (840)
By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent
United Nations -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed on
October 22 to extend the mandate of the U.N. Mission in the Central
African Republic (MINURCA) until February 15, 2000, and instructed the
U.N. to take steps to continue to help the country rebuild.
The council also agreed with Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the
1,350-troop peacekeeping mission be reduced gradually in three stages
to allow for a smooth transfer of its functions to local security and
police forces. And it supported the secretary-general's proposal to
send a small mission to Bangui to investigate the possibility of
keeping a U.N. presence in the country after February through a
"political office" -- to help the government promote national
reconciliation, continue reforms, and monitor political,
socio-economic, human rights, and security developments.
The council called on the C.A.R. government to complete the
restructuring of the armed forces and the demobilization and
reintegration of retired military personnel into civilian life.
During the next four months, MINURCA will complete its training of 180
local police recruits along with withdrawing its military personnel.
In addition, the secretary-general said he intends to convene a
meeting in New York to solicit much needed funds to support C.A.R.
programs.
The first batch of MINURCA's three infantry companies will leave
Bangui by mid-December 1999 and a second group of two infantry
companies and a logistics unit will leave in January 2000. The third
group -- including the last infantry company, a light tank company,
and a medical unit -- will leave by February 15. The last 185 military
personnel will close out the mission.
U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh said that while the United States has
opposed extensions of MINURCA in the past, it agreed to this extension
"because we are committed to promoting peace and security throughout
Africa as a means for enhancing development and economic growth."
Burleigh emphasized the need for a smooth transition. "MINURCA's
troops must begin to withdraw immediately; departure cannot be delayed
until the end of this extension. It is also vital that the United
Nations take steps as soon as possible to formulate a program for the
U.N. and other international donors to support reform after MINURCA
departs," he said.
"It is similarly important that the government of the C.A.R. should
use the next three months to complete the implementation of
stabilizing reforms," the ambassador said. "The future of the Central
African Republic is in the hands of the government and its people."
The United States would like to see further military restructuring and
demobilization and strict adherence to the IMF program, which includes
the regular payment of salaries to soldiers and other government
employees, Burleigh said.
MINURCA "helped create a much improved security situation in the
C.A.R. This, in turn, allowed the government to conduct a peaceful
presidential election on September 19 and to begin implementing much
needed reforms. Much work, however, remains to be done in the C.A.R.
-- not by MINURCA, but by the government and people themselves," he
said.
As the council was meeting, Annan sent a message to President
Ange-Felix Patasse on his inauguration, pointing out that "the time
has now come for the United Nations peacekeeping forces to gradually
hand over their responsibilities to the Central African authorities.
It is time, therefore, for Central Africans to put behind them the
grievances and rhetoric of the electoral campaign and look ahead to an
important new chapter in their history."
With the successful completion of the elections, "the Central African
Republic can now join the growing number of countries on the African
continent where democracy and stability are taking root," Annan said.
"It is now up to the government and the opposition to work together in
the spirit of the Bangui Agreements and national reconciliation, to
consolidate the gains made on the road to democracy and to take the
necessary steps towards major reforms and sustainable development."
The C.A.R. has "a unique window of opportunity" to achieve much needed
actions, including restructuring the armed forces, disposing of
weapons, implementing economic and social reforms, and restoring the
confidence of foreign investors, the secretary-general said.
In a written report to the council, Annan also pointed out that
despite increased tension during the elections, "high numbers of
Central African voters went to the polls in a peaceful and calm
manner. In doing so, the people of the Central African Republic once
again demonstrated their desire for peace, stability, and
development."
He cited aid from Canada, China, Egypt, France, Gabon, Japan, Nigeria,
and the United States as instrumental in the successful elections.
MINURCA has 1,350 troops from Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, Cote
d'Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Senegal, and Togo. It also has 24 civilian
police observers from Benin, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, France, Mali,
Portugal, Senegal, and Tunisia.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)



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