This week, scores of people have been killed in sectarian clashes in Central African Republic between local militias and former rebels. Mostly Muslim Seleka fighters attacked Christian civilians in the mining village of Gaga, around 250km northwest of Bangui. Seleka gunmen, many of them from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, have repeatedly been accused of desecrating churches and terrorising Christian communities.
Security Council diplomats may vote on Thursday on a French-drafted resolution calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report on possible international support for a planned African Union peacekeeping mission known as MISCA.
In the meantime, armed groups have arisen to oppose Seleka. The Front for the Return of Constitutional Order in Central African Republic (FROCCA), a loosely knit militia composed of former national army officers loyal to Bozize, rebel groups and local vigilante movements fed up with Seleka's unceasing violence and looting, formed in August 2013. Based in Bozize’s home region of northwestern CAR, FROCCA has links to groups in neighboring Cameroon, where many pro-Bozize military officers fled in the aftermath of the coup.
Deep anti-Seleka sentiment has also been brewing in CAR's western regions, which have in recent months become hotspots of violence as local vigilante and dissident groups have challenged Seleka, leading to fighting on the border between Cameroon and CAR. On May 5, at least five rebel groups seeking to form a more coherent response to Seleka formed a northwestern alliance under the name African Anti-Jihadist Alliance (AAAJ).
An ethno-regionalist and strongly anti-Islamic alliance made up of a pro-Bozize Christian movement and rebel militias mainly from the Banda, Gbaya, Pygmie and Yakoma ethnic groups, the AAAJ has accused Seleka fighters of being "foreign Islamist invaders" that have taken over a Christian country. AAAJ describes itself as a Christian self-defense group made up of western ethnic groups and claims to be on a mission to liberate CAR from Seleka's abuses. But other than retaking a few small villages in the northwest, the AAAJ does not appear to have as much military clout as it claims.
Other pro-Bozize movements with more capacity are now coalescing into larger anti-Seleka armed groups. On Sept. 6, a little-known rebel unit, the Patriotic Youth Movement of Central Africans (MPJCA) announced its intention to join FROCCA, arguing that "the military solution is now the only way to put an end to the current suffering of the Central African people." Four days later, another rebel militia, the Democratic Front of the Central African People, which was formerly part of the Seleka movement but turned against it shortly after the March coup, also joined forces with FROCCA.
FROCCA does not yet have the manpower, military strength or regional backing to mount a formidable challenge to thousands of Seleka fighters. Comprising different groups with varying agendas, FROCCA still appears to be a local rebel force and has yet to develop a solid national agenda. Moreover, a pro-Bozize armed movement would likely have difficulty gaining traction with a conflict-fatigued populace, who might view a new rebel movement as more likely to bring fighting and displacement than a restoration of peace.
Nevertheless, as the pro-Bozize force tries to assert its presence in the northwest, it has the potential to become a serious problem for the transitional government, which has already been struggling to contain the Seleka rampage for the past six months.
Given these new armed threats, the effective restoration of peace and security is an urgent and pressing issue, not only for CAR's transitional government but also for the region, which has deployed peacekeepers and had previously facilitated peace negotiations between CAR's rebels and the Bozize government.
At the recommendation of the African Union, ECCAS is considering deploying a more robust peacekeeping force, the International Mission to Support Central Africa, with 3,652 peacekeepers. The new mission would work alongside the regional Multinational Force of Central Africa, which has been deployed in CAR since 2002, and which Seleka has repeatedly defied. It is hoped that a larger force will be more effective in containing Seleka and other armed threats.
With fighting between the pro-Bozize and Seleka forces leaving northwestern towns and villages in ruins, and government forces unable to stop the fighting in Bossangoa and Bouca, CAR could be pushed back to the brink of wider conflict if tensions deepen and rebel movements gain more capacity. That would worsen an already dire situation for CAR, making the restoration of order and peace an all but impossible task for the transitional leadership and its regional partners.
By Guylain Gustave Moke