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UFDR (Union of Democratic Forces for Unity)

After violence in 2007 in the Vakaga, the CARG subcontracted responsibility for the region to the increasingly Goula dominated UFDR led by Zakaria Damane in return for payments back to Bangui. The UFDR was previously multiethnic, but started to fragment once the conflict with the CARG subsided. Damane, a Goula, maintained his support within the UFDR by increasingly relying on his ethnicity against all others. The Rounga in particular suffered and were pushed off their traditional diamond fields in eastern CAR and specifically those at Sam Ouandja and Bria.

The virtual takeover of northeastern CAR by the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UDFR) militia in 2007 has lead to the de facto control of the economy by the Goula ethnic group (Ref A). Diamonds, along with animal poaching and agriculture, are the major commercial staples in the area, and the UFDR is suspected to be heavily involved in the two former trades. The UFDR is also thought to be deeply implicated in the diamond fields of Sam Ouandja, with one of their largest contingents based strategically outside of the town. The UFDR militia, furthermore, stands accused of murdering two major Rounga diamond merchants in 2008 and pushing others off the diamond fields in the Vakaga prefecture in favor of those from their own ethnic group. The UFDR controls the few roads in the region, allowing them to control most of the trade to the rest of the CAR and neighboring Sudan.

The Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) based in the northeast stated publically that they will be unable to demobilize as long as their Kara foes in the Vakaga remain armed. The Rounga controlled the diamond trade in all directions from the town of Ouadda in Haute-Kotto, to specifically include Sam Ouandja and Bria. When Damane Zacharia, the UFDR rebel leader and an ethnic Goula, signed a peace agreement with the Central African Republic Government [CARG] he did not make an adequate payment to the Rounga, and worse, drove them from the diamond fields. This split is said to have been brewing since 2006. At some point, they reached out to both Rounga allies and those in several other groups (Kara, Mandja) in Sudan for money and weapons. This resulted in the December 2008 attacks on Sam Ouandja and near Bria; raids to seal weapons from the FACA and the Gendarmes.

These rebels were operating against the backdrop of longer term conflict between the Goula and Rounga tribes and quickly recounted the alliances and conflicts between the two groups, going back at least a decade. Points of unity and conflict include cattle raids against and from the Sudanese (the two tribes had not always come to each other's defense), diamond mining rights (Goula driving the Rounga off the diamond fields), and various individual killings and compensations.

By 2009 the specter of renewed ethnic violence loomed ever larger between the Kara and Youlu ethnicities on one side, and the Goula on the other. According to the 2003 government census, there were just over 52,000 people in the Vakaga. By 2009 there were thought to be 60,000 today with 40,000 being Goula and related tribes. The rest are Kara, Youlu, Sara, Houssa and a few smaller groups. Though the Goula far outnumber the Kara and Youlu, the Kara can call on support from the Ta'asha tribe in Sudan.

The UN Mission in Chad and the CAR (MINURCAT) had a base outside of Birao, Vakaga, but did not have the mandate or capacity to directly intervene in inter-tribal conflict. They were struggling come to grips with the dichotomy between their mission - protect refugees and NGO's from cross border raids by the Sudanese government and the reality of the situation - an internal CAR focused conflict.

Many Bangui based observers, are inclined to dismiss the conflict as simple "ethnic conflict" unrelated to the larger political struggles in the CAR. Others reject this explanation, believing instead that here too, as elsewhere in the Central African Republic, conflict was driven primarily by the political and economic ambitions of a small number of individuals. The simplest hypothesis is that by 2009 the UFDR was disintegrating and this was creating a power vacuum which be being filled by new groups with new leaders. While the protagonists in the western CAR have been identified for some time, it is much harder to get information on what is happening in the northeast due to the distance, lack of roads, and government opposition to travel in the area.

An incident report from the French NGO ACTED describes, in detail, the rapaciousness of the local bandits and the rebel group UFDR (Union of Democratic Forces for Unity) and vividly illustrates the helplessness of those caught in the middle. On 27 March 2009, two local employees of ACTED were forcibly deprived of their motorcycle and related items by two assailants wearing ski masks and wielding AK-47s. The next day, an International Red Cross vehicle was hailed down by Sub-lieutenant Abduolaye Hamat of the UFDR, who claimed to have `found' the motorcycle and wanted a reward of USD 200 for his troubles. ACTED officials, on the other hand, strongly suspect that the original bandits were working in concert with Hamat.

Over the next six days ACTED negotiated with the UFDR military chief Zakaria Damane, an Inclusive Political Dialogue signatory and advisor to President Bozize. Finally, Damane decided that ACTED did not have to pay the indemnity, but instead that the acting head of ACTED must personally pay the ransom. It is likely that this was decided to avoid paperwork for ACTED, but it unclear that ACTED actually agreed to the deal. Regardless, on April 6, 2009, Hamat appeared, armed, at the home of the acting head of ACTED and demanded the money. A meeting was quickly organized between ACTED, the Sous-Prefet (and Mayor of Birao), the UFDR and MINURCAT. As no one was willing to protect the interests of ACTED, the NGO was obliged to pay.

Road banditry strangles traffic along the CAR's decrepit roads. Within two days of this incident, there were three other reports of road holdups and sadly, this does not signal an upsurge. These are daily events and a direct result of a feeble government.

By mid-2009 General Zakaria Damane, who led the UFDR to prominence in between 2006 and 2007, was reportedly suffering severe renal trouble, possibly as a result of kidney stones. Despite reportedly going into a possible coma for three days, Damane was said to be cut off from medical care in both Bangui and Birao, the only two options available for grave health issues in the CAR. Blocked from Bangui (a government plane reportedly landed in the village in which he was convalescing but did not pick him up), Damane also was unable to go to Birao as all roads to the town are purportedly blocked by Kara militia men. The Kara were hostile to the UFDR after a long running dispute with the Goula whose recent manifestation was an attack on Birao with some 60 armed men aimed at the Central African military (FACA) and UFDR positions on June 6th, 2009. This followed the burning of thirty four homes in Kara dominated Delembe in response to the murder and crucifixion of a young Goula man by the Kara. Furthermore, Damane's brother was murdered by Kara, though it is not clear if he was targeted or killed at random as he was trying to go to Birao to get medicine for his sibling.

With the illness of UFDR chief Zakaria Damane, the CPJP may see an opportunity to retake the diamond fields between Ouanda Djalle, Ouadda, and Sam Ouandja or potentially even make a move for Ndele and towards Bangui. While this should not threaten the fundamental stability of the Central African Government (CARG), it is yet another example of the CARG's lack of control over the northeast.

On 22 June 2009, the UFDR announced the pullout of its forces from Birao, though about ten fighters remain to care for wounded at the local hospital. This suggests he Goula leadership did not feel the price they are paying to protect Abdurrahman is worth the punishment it has taken, and, the UFDR may be fracturing and the consolidation is a move by the leadership in Tiringoulu to keep a closer eye on their elements. UFDR leaders in the Ouanda Djalle area reportedly split from Damane's control and threatened to take up arms against the government and/or the Kara.

The UFDR was the last remaining element of order in the city. The FACA is incapable/unmotivated and law enforcement/peacekeeping is out of MINURCAT's rules of engagement The start of the Togolese force's mandate was catastrophic. They deployed to Birao without any ammunition, setting back the mission some critical days. Additionally, on June 21, they returned to base when faced with the firefight in the town instead of ensuring the safety of humanitarian workers in Birao as is their charge). Worse, the specter of ethnic strife also loomed as accounts were settled from previous violence.

MINURCAT was directed to protect the refugees in the town of Sam Ouandja. Sam Ouandja had been quiet since its brief occupation by Zakaria Damane's Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) in 2007. Until late 2009, the UFDR and the CARG jointly ran the town and controlled its comparatively lucrative diamond and game trade. During 2007, Sudanese were not allowed to mine diamonds. Over 2009, however, the Sudanese refugees began mining for diamonds and were increasingly active in game poaching both for meat and ivory This may or may not be related to the rise of the CPJP as the Rounga who make up the majority of the CPJP were the traditional miners of the Sam Ouandja fields. This in turn is creating tension with the local inhabitants, who are supported by the UFDR and CARG. On 11 December 2009, tensions boiled over when an ambush of two UFDR members traveling on a motorcycle resulted in the deaths of both militia men and one ambusher. To make matters worse, one of Damane's close relatives was among the two UFDR slain. The UFDR believe the attackers came from the refugee camp; however the head of the camp denied that the dead ambusher originated from his community.

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Page last modified: 30-12-2012 20:15:52 ZULU