Rwandan soldiers in the Central African Republic as part of a UN peacekeeping force. UN photo via Twitter.
Armed rebels have encircled Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, spurring an “apocalyptic” situation, the country’s former prime minister said.
“I cannot leave Bangui […] without a heavily armed army escort,” Martin Ziguélé, the former prime minister, told Reuters during a telephone interview, adding: “It is really an apocalyptic situation.”
A conflict began in the Central African Republic, or CAR, last month, spurring more than 200,000 people to flee their homes in less than two months — half that number have reportedly left the country, the United Nations reports.
CAR officials declared a state of emergency in Bangui in early January after rebel forces encircled the city in a gambit to oust President Faustin-Archange Touadéra following a contentious December election. As the capital city fell under a de facto rebel siege, the US State Department began evacuating personnel from its embassy in Bangui on Jan. 14.
“Due to ongoing armed group activity and supply chain disruptions” the US State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency government employees from the country, a department spokesperson told Coffee or Die Magazine.
Over 100,000 people have fled the Central African Republic and sought safety in DRC, Chad, Cameroon.
Our humanitarian operations to assist refugees from CAR are severely underfunded. Help is greatly needed. https://t.co/nGDEqc856d pic.twitter.com/wEK4McwYo4
— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) February 1, 2021
The US ambassador to the CAR remains in the country, and the US Embassy has not shut down. According to the State Department spokesperson, the US remains “committed to a strong diplomatic partnership with the Central African Republic.”
The US Embassy in Bangui issued a statement on Jan. 19 calling on “all parties” to respect a Jan. 18 court ruling that upheld Touadéra’s electoral victory.
“The United States is deeply disturbed by the violence that has continued to take place since the holding of elections December 27,” the embassy said in the statement. “Violence of any kind is unacceptable and must end. The United States encourages all parties to remain committed to the democratic process, to CAR’s constitution, and to the rule of law.”
According to news reports, a combined peacekeeping force comprising military personnel from the United Nations, Russia, and Rwanda is assisting CAR government troops to secure Bangui against a potential rebel sack. Some 12,000 peacekeeping troops in total are on the ground in the Central African Republic, the BBC reported.
Amid the escalating violence, the plight of the country’s refugees is particularly worrying, UN officials say.
“Most refugees are living in dire conditions in remote, hard-to-reach areas close to the rivers without basic shelter and facing acute food shortages,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov said during a Jan. 29 press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.
While it is against US military policy to comment on any prospective operations, American forces are likely poised in the region to assist in the evacuation of any US citizens stranded in the CAR should the level of violence significantly escalate.
“AFRICOM condemns the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic,” Nicole Kirschmann, a US Africa Command spokeswoman, told Coffee or Die Magazine in an email.
“Any evacuation of American citizens would be undertaken in coordination with the US Department of State,” Kirschmann added.
Due to insecurity and violence, the US has suspended embassy operations in the CAR three times in the past 20 years — most recently in December 2012 after militants overthrew the government. According to a State Department report on the CAR: “Significant portions of the country’s territory remain outside state control and are ungoverned, with the presence of multiple armed actors creating insecurity in much of the country.”
The US State Department issued a stern statement on Jan. 14, warning US citizens not to visit the CAR.
“Armed groups control large areas of the country and they regularly kidnap, injure, and/or kill civilians. In the event of unrest, airport, land border, and road closures may occur with little or no notice,” the US Embassy in Central African Republic reports on its website.
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