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In the Central African Republic, a new peace deal offers some hope

The agreement includes plans for joint patrols and a truth and reconciliation commission.

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Central African president Faustin-Archange Touadera (L) inks a peace deal next to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum on February 05, 2019. ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP
Central African president Faustin-Archange Touadera (L) inks a peace deal next to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum on February 05, 2019. ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP

The Central African Republic will shortly set up a truth and reconciliation commission to shed light on its violent past, under a peace deal signed by the country’s beleaguered government and militia groups.

The accord, agreed in Khartoum by the CAR and 14 militia groups who control most of the country, has boosted hopes of an end to a long and bloody conflict in one of the world’s most troubled states.

But the deal has been shadowed by doubts about what it actually contains — details have been kept under wraps until the last three parties to the accord sign it.

A copy of the accord obtained by reporters on Friday spells out important confidence-building measures but is muted on the thorny issue of whether warlords will be amnestied.

One of its most important provisions is to set up a “truth, justice, reparation and reconciliation commission” within 90 days.

The panel will be tasked with “identifying and proposing any action likely to be taken in the area of justice,” it says.

Parties to the deal also commit to setting up joint security patrols with soldiers and members of armed groups for two years. 

Militia patrolmen who join these patrols will have had “sufficient training of two months,” says the accord.

The accord is the eighth attempt in nearly six years to forge peace in the war-ravaged country, where human rights groups have documented a long list of murders, extra-judicial killings, torture and rape.

The goal is to set out down a pathway to peace between militia groups who control most of the country and the UN-backed government.

The accord was initialled in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday before being signed in the capital Bangui on Wednesday by some militia leaders and President Faustin-Archange Touadera.

The three other signatories may sign during the upcoming summit of the African Union (AU), taking place in Addis Ababa on Sunday and Monday, according to government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui.

Central African armed groups leaders attend the inking of a peace deal in Khartoum on February 05, 2019. ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP

Conflict in the CAR has left thousands dead and forced an estimated quarter of the population of 4.5 million from their homes. The rural exodus, the UN warned last year, could drive the country into famine.

The crisis erupted in 2012, when a rebel movement called the Seleka rose in the north of the country.

The following year, the insurgents overthrew President Francois Bozize, triggering a militia called the anti-Balaka.

France, the former colonial ruler, intervened militarily under a UN mandate as fears grew of a Rwandan-style genocide.

The Seleka were forced from power and in February 2016, Touadera, a former prime minister, was elected president.

A UN peacekeeping force of some 13,000 troops and police has been deployed in support of Touadera.

But militia  groups — typically portraying themselves as defenders of a community or religious group — still control some 80 percent of the country.

Fighting often erupts between these forces over control of mineral resources, which range from gold and diamonds to uranium.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks on the road to peace has been demands by rebel leaders to be granted amnesties — a condition that Touadera, under pressure from western partners, has traditionally refused.

Several leaders face UN sanctions or have been accused by rights groups of abuses, and others face the notional risk of arrest in CAR itself.

A Special Criminal Court opened last year, tasked with determining cases involving violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed since 2003, including war crimes and genocide, although it says its scope is likely to be limited by funds.

The peace agreement makes no mention of any amnesty but notes that the president has a “discretionary right of pardon” which may be invoked to “sustain the dynamic of reconciliation.”

The “reintegration” of militia leaders will be vetted on a “case-by case” basis by a mixed panel, the text adds.

The document also says there will be an “inclusive government” — another notorious stumbling block — but gives no details as to its composition.

The 14 armed groups similarly undertake to “respect the legitimacy of the (CAR’s) democratic institutions.”

And the accord says that a “law” will be passed to determine the status of former heads of state.

This is a long-standing demand of Bozize and Michel Djotodia, who ousted him in 2013.

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Measles is a bigger threat in DR Congo than Ebola – NGO

Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization

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Measles has killed 2,758 people in DR Congo since January, more than the Ebola epidemic in a year, medical NGO Doctors Without Borders said, and called Saturday for a “massive mobilisation of funds.”

The disease, preventable with a vaccine, has infected over 145,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo between January and early August, it said in a statement.

“Since July, the epidemic has worsened, with a rise in new cases reported in several provinces,” said the NGO that goes by its French acronym MSF.

“Only $2.5 million has been raised out of the $8.9 million required for the Health Cluster response plan  — in stark contrast with the Ebola epidemic in the east of the country, which attracts multiple organisations and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding,” it added.

MSF tweeted that without a “massive mobilisation of funds and response organisations, the current measles outbreak in #DRCongo could get even worse.”

The NGO said it has vaccinated 474,860 children between the ages of six months and five years since the beginning of the year and provided care to more than 27,000 measles patients.

In the country’s east, Ebola has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August.

Measles is a highly-contagious diseased caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections.

Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization, amid a rise in “anti-vaxxer” sentiment in some countries that can afford the vaccine, and lagging resources for the preventative measure in poor nations.

DR Congo declared a measles epidemic in June.

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76 people survive shipwreck in DR Congo

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu.

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DR Congo boat accident claims 11 lives, dozens missing

76 people have survived a shipwreck on Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a regional official said Saturday. However, more than a dozen people are feared to have drowned in the same incident.

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu. 

“We have already registered 76 survivors,” said Swedi Basila, the regional transport minister for South Kivu province, adding that up to 20 people were still missing.

“No body has been found until now,” he told AFP.

The vessel had been on its way to the island of Idjwi when it hit a large rock and capsized, Basila said.

River transport is one of the most used in DR Congo with its numerous waterways. Boat mishaps are common, typically caused by overloading of passengers and cargo.

Tolls are often high because there are no life jackets and many Congolese do not know how to swim.

In April, at least 167 people were killed in two accidents, prompting President Felix Tshisekedi to make it mandatory for boat passengers to have life jackets. 

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DR Congo authorities ban rallies in Kinshasa as tensions rise

Tensions rose in the capital after youths announced they would hold a protest against the candidacy of a former justice minister

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UDPS opposition party leader Felix Tshisekedi gestures to supporters as Authorities bans rallies

DR Congo authorities have banned political rallies this week in the capital Kinshasa because of tensions between supporters of President Felix Tshisekedi and those of former leader Joseph Kabila, police said Sunday.

Tshisekedi was elected in December to replace Kabila who presided over sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country for nearly two decades.

Tensions rose in the capital after the youth wing of Tshisekedi’s Democracy and Social Progress party (UDPS) announced it would hold a protest against the candidacy of a former justice minister for the senate presidency.

In response, the pro-Kabila Red Berets movement said it would hold a counter-march to support the candidacy of Alexis Thambwe, who is considered by many a hardliner from the Kabila regime.

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Kinshasa police chief General Sylvano Kasongo told state television that given the tensions in the capital, Kinshasa’s governor had banned all political rallies for this week. “He instructed the police to take all appropriate measures. Anyone who attempts to march or disturb the public order this week will find the police in their way,” he said.

UDPS youth wing spokesman Fils Mukoko told reporters they wanted to protest against seeing “the same faces in charge of the country’s institutions or in the government.”

Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition won comfortable majorities in both houses of parliament as well as provincial assemblies, and his supporters also dominated elections for the governorships across the country.

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None of the candidates the FCC presented for seven key Senate posts is from Tshisekedi’s CACH alliance in the legislature despite an agreement to work together between the two political blocs.

Six months after Tshisekedi’s inauguration and more than a month after the appointment of Prime Minister Ilunga Ilunkamba, who was proposed by Kabila, CACH and FCC negotiators are still struggling to agree on the composition of the government.

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