After decades of strife instability, CAR plunged into a security, political and humanitarian crisis in March 2013 when the Seleka, a coalition of mainly Muslim armed groups, overthrew President Bozizé. The Seleka’s rule was marked by corruption and human rights violations.
The anti-balaka militia leaders’ identity, their chain of command and their political program are all unknowns. “Balaka” is the Sango word for machete. Some sources say it is also alludes to the French for bullets of an automatic rifle (“balle AK”). Either way, “anti-balaka” roughly means “invincible”, a power purportedly bestowed by the charms that hang around the necks of most members. The term gained currency when it was applied to self-defense units set up - in the absence of effective state security forces - to protect communities from attacks by highway bandits or cattle raiders.
The anti-balaka had a long history in the Central African Republic. Originally, they were local self-defense groups. Every village had its own militia. The anti-balaka traditionally hunted down bandits and arrested them. That was before President Francois Bozize came to power.
Several rebel groups joined forces under the banner of the Seleka (“alliance” in Sango) forces in late 2012. President Francois Bozize was toppled by the Seleka rebels in March 2013 and forced into exile. After the coup, many members of the former government army, known by its French acronym, FACA, joined the anti-balaka. In the prefecture of Lobaye, all anti-balaka commanders there came from FACA.
In the second half of 2013, long-standing village militias and self-defence groups known as anti-balaka, mostly Christian and animist, reorganised to challenge the Seleka, and were reinforced by former army soldiers (FACA) and Presidential Guards mostly loyal to ex-President Bozizé. When they began carrying out armed operations, the targets of their attacks were mainly Muslim civilians and Seleka.
Armed groups who opposed the Seleka, including the Young Patriots, came to be known collectively as the anti-Balaka. At the end of 2013, long-standing village self-defence groups restructured to fight the Seleka, calling themselves “anti-balaka”, and were reinforced by former FACA and Presidential Guards loyal to Bozizé.
UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) staff reported in July 2013 that Bozize supporters committed extrajudicial killings in the beginning of the year. The presidential guard, the FACA, and the Young Patriots killed individuals they believed to be Seleka supporters. There were reportedly mass graves of opponents of the Bozize government in Bessembele.
“Anti-balaka” caught on as a generic term for those resisting the brutal Seleka (a word to which, since the alliance’s official disbanding in September 2013, the prefix “ex” has usually added). The term gained currency by around 2010, when it was applied to self-defense units set up - in the absence of effective state security forces - to protect communities from attacks by highway bandits or cattle raiders. Most of its recruits are from Christian or animist communities.
The fight between the two warring Seleka and Anti-Balaka militia broke out into a full scale civil war after the coup in March 2013. Most Seleka members were Muslim, chiefly because Islam is the more popular religion in the marginalized northern areas where rebel groups sprang up. Seleka members committed widespread atrocities after seizing power in March 2013, including killings, large-scale arson and rape.
Thirsting for revenge and high on drugs, the anti-balaka militia tipped over into a murderous frenzy. This is one explanation for the violence – and the cannibalism – directed not only against Seleka rebels but Muslim civilians as well.
Most Seleka members were Muslim, chiefly because Islam is the more prevalent religion in the marginalized northern areas where rebel groups sprang up. Muslims, many with no connection to the rebels, have been targeted in reprisals by anti-balaka and civilians. According to Amnesty International, such attacks have led tens of thousands to leave CAR in “an exodus of historic proportions”.
Seleka members continued to engage in conflict with armed militia groups throughout the country, including with a group called the Young Patriots established in the final days of the Bozize regime to counter the Seleka and their supporters. Sectarian violence resulted in an estimated 500 deaths between 5-7 December 2013 and an estimated 200 deaths from 20-26 December 2013. While the violence was most pronounced in Bangui, it was also concentrated in Ouham prefecture, a region with ties to former president Bozize.
Clashes in December 2013 between anti-balaka and the ex-Seleka led to reprisal attacks in which about 1,000 people died in Bangui alone. The anti-balaka were largely responsible for driving the ex-Seleka from many of their bases in western CAR. Up to 6,000 civilians had been killed in the fighting and over one millions people have fled their homes. By 2014 the anti-balaka were pawns, manipulated by their political leaders.
When the anti-balaka revolt began in December 2013, it was said to be the work of local gangs defending their villages. Later they were better organized. Anti-balaka leaders were former army commanders and politicians who were forced from their posts in the Seleka coup.
Muslims, many with no connection to the rebels, have been targeted in reprisals by anti-balaka and civilians. According to Amnesty International, such attacks have led tens of thousands to leave CAR in “an exodus of historic proportions”.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “the anti-balaka militias are increasingly organized and using language that suggests their intent is to eliminate Muslim residents from the Central African Republic." At this rate, if the targeted violence continues, there will be no Muslims left in much of the Central African Republic. Whether the anti-balaka leaders are pursuing a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing or exacting abusive collective punishment against the Muslim population [in response to the Seleka’s atrocities], the end result is clear: the disappearance of longstanding Muslim communities.
On 14 January 2014, a few days after post-coup president Michel Djotodia stepped down, hundreds of men, many of whom had fought as anti-balaka, showed up for duty at FACA headquarters. Hundreds more since appeared at morning assemblies. How many of them were bona fide soldiers before the coup, and how many still consider themselves members of anti-balaka, was not clear. Anti-balaka spokesmen have called for members to be integrated into the army “with appropriate rank” or given demobilization packages.
The anti-balaka are said to consist of many groups, including at least 10 in Bangui, based on the city’s arrondissements, and many others across the country. There have been no reports of anti-balaka groups fighting each other. Two ministers in the government of ousted president Francois Bozize, Patrice Edouard Ngaissona and Joachin Kokate, claim to be the anti-balaka’s national-level political and military coordinators, respectively. Their political leader is Patrice Ngassona, former minister for youth and head of the football association. Bozize has denied having a controlling hand over the group.
The balance of power between Djotodia and other Seleka figures — such as strongman Noureddine Adam, who had served as Security Minister — was uncertain, and factional violence is possible as the fractious coalition comes under new pressures.
In a warning to those who may threaten the peace, stability and security of the Central African Republic, on 13 May 2014 the United States imposed sanctions on five individuals who are contributing to the terrible violence there. President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order stating that dangers posed by the instability in the CAR constitute a threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States and declared a national emergency to deal with the threat. this included Noureddine Adam [Seleka General and Former Minister of Public Security, born 1969].
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on 21 August 2015 designated Central African Republic (CAR) militia leaders pursuant to Executive Order (EO. 13667 for being leaders of groups that threaten the peace, security, or stability of the CAR.
Alfred Yekatom was designated for being a leader of an Anti-Balaka armed group that has, or whose members have, threatened the peace, security, or stability of the CAR. Yekatom commands Anti-Balaka forces in and around the capital, Bangui. Yekatom’s militia is suspected of conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign against Muslims; in October 2014, Yekatom oversaw the killing of civilians in Mbaiki, Lobaye Prefecture. Yekatom also used 153 children as fighters in his group before handing them over to the UN in August 2014. Additionally, Yekatom’s forces operate armed checkpoints to illegally tax vehicles travelling on the roads and waterways from Bangui to Cameroon.
Habib Soussou was designated for being a leader of an Anti-Balaka armed group that had, or whose members had, threatened the peace, security, or stability of the CAR. Soussou is the Anti-Balaka commander in Boda, Lobaye Prefecture. In early 2013, the Anti-Balaka in Boda surrounded the city’s approximate 10,000 Muslims in a single district and shot at those approaching or attempting to cross the boundary, which is known as the “red line.” Soussou personally threatened to kill any Muslim crossing the red line. The Boda Anti-Balaka also threatened organizations distributing food aid to the surrounding population.
On 12 April 2017 the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Abdoulaye Hissene (Hissene) and Maxime Mokom (Mokom) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13667 for engaging in actions that threaten the peace, security, or stability of the Central African Republic (CAR). As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these individuals within U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. “The individuals designated today are responsible for prolonging instability in the Central African Republic,” said OFAC Director John E. Smith. “Today’s action underscores our ongoing efforts to target those responsible for fueling violence and human rights abuses in the Central African Republic.”
In September 2015, Hissene and Mokom collaborated as part of a larger alliance between ex-Séléka members and anti-Balaka allies of former CAR President Francois Bozize, who was sanctioned in May of 2014, to encourage violence in Bangui. Their collaboration was part of a failed coup attempt designed to overthrow the CAR Government while then-Transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza was attending the 2015 UN General Assembly. Hissene and Mokom were specifically identified as suspects in the failed coup by the CAR Public Prosecutor’s office.
In addition, Hissene conspired with Mokom to disrupt a constitutional referendum held in December 2015. Mokom’s anti-Balaka forces worked with elements of Hissene’s Popular Front for the Rebirth of the CAR (FPRC) ex-Séléka group to intimidate voters and disrupt polling in the town of Kaga Bandoro during the December 13 vote. Hissene also encouraged retaliatory attacks between different groups. Hissene is specifically accused of orchestrating violence in Bangui’s KM5 district that killed five, wounded 20, and prevented residents from voting in the referendum.
In June 2016, Hissene’s KM5 fighters and Mokom’s anti-Balaka supporters may have planned to disrupt the arrival of CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s flight to Bangui airport, leading the CAR Government to warn publicly of a possible coup attempt. On August 12, 2016, Hissene and a group of armed men traveling north from Bangui engaged CAR security forces in multiple gunfights. The UN’s peacekeeping mission in the CAR, the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), eventually captured some of the men, but Hissene and several others escaped.
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