The UN Security Council has called on rebels in the Central African Republic to halt their military offensive and withdraw from towns and cities they have seized, arguing that the continued occupation constitutes "a threat to the civilian population, and hinder the provision of humanitarian assistance." The UN's children agency has called on rebels and pro-government groups in the CAR to stop recruiting children to fight in the country's conflict.
UN Council Calls on CAR Rebels to Withdraw from Captured Towns
(January 5, 2013) -- The UN Security Council has called on rebels in the Central African Republic to halt their military offensive and withdraw from towns and cities they have seized.
The council said in a press statement late on Friday that these military activities "gravely undermine" the country's security and stability, "constitute a threat to the civilian population, and hinder the provision of humanitarian assistance".
Rebels calling for President Francois Bozize to step down have seized 10 towns in a month, but they halted their advance on the capital Bangui on December 29 pending negotiations.
The Security Council called on all parties to seek a peaceful solution and engage in negotiations scheduled to be held in Libreville, Gabon starting January 8 "without preconditions and in good faith".
It encouraged the government, armed groups, the political opposition and other interested parties to use the talks "to negotiate a comprehensive political solution".
Pakistan's UN Ambassador Masood Khan, the current council president who read the press statement, was asked whether the talks would definitely take place given uncertainty about participation of all the rebels and other groups.
"Right now preparations are being made and we're hoping the talks will take place, and all parties are being urged in that direction," Khan said.
"The talks are important to reduce tension and de-escalate the situation and look towards diplomatic solutions."
The rebel coalition Seleka, which means alliance in the local Sango language, is made up of four separate groups which have previously fought one another.
Bozize has offered to form a government of national unity but the rebels have questioned his sincerity and are demanding that he relinquish power.
They also want the government to respect previous peace accords providing for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former rebels into society.
The council expressed concern about reports of arrests, detention, looting and the targeting of ethnic minorities as well as the recruitment and use of children in the conflict.
Council members urged all parties to stop violence against civilians and to respect human rights and said those responsible should be held accountable.
The UN children's agency on Friday said it has received "credible reports that rebel groups and pro-government militias are increasingly recruiting and involving children in armed conflict".
Central African Republic is a desperately poor, landlocked nation that has suffered numerous rebellions since independence from France.
President Bozize himself came to power in 2003 through a rebellion that was backed by Chadian forces and has since won two elections. He says he will not leave before finishing his term in 2016.
Despite the nation's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.
The nation's woes also have been compounded by its proximity to other conflict-ridden states including Sudan's Darfur region. Uganda's notorious rebel Lord's Resistance Army also has taken advantage of the weak state to take refuge in the Central African Republic - attacking and abducting civilians with near-impunity.
UN Concerned over Child Soldier Rise in CAR Al Jazeera
UN's children agency urges rebels and pro-government groups to stop using children in Central African Republic conflict.
(January 5, 2013) -- The United Nation's children agency has called on rebels and pro-government groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) to stop recruiting children to fight in the country's conflict that has seen armed opposition groups seize key towns.
"Reliable sources have informed us that children are newly being recruited among their ranks," Souleymane Diabate, a UNICEF spokesperson in CAR, said in a statement on Friday.
UNICEF condemned the involvement of boys and girls "who may be forced to fight, carry supplies, perform other support roles and be abused as sex slaves by armed groups".
It said that even before the current conflict erupted last month, about 2,500 children were associated with multiple armed groups, including self-defence groups, in CAR.
Shannon Strother, the UNICEF emergency coordinator in CAR, told Al Jazeera that the organisation fears that the country's new conflict has seen a rise in child soldiers.
"What we have is a series of credible reports from multiple sites across the country that children are being armed forces, including in Bangui," she said.
"Since 2007 we have been able to negotiate the release of 1,300 children, but we are concerned with this new conflict we will see a rise in children with armed groups."
More than 300,000 children have been affected by the violence in the country and its consequences, including through recruitment, family separation, sexual violence, forced displacement and having no or limited access to education and health facilities, it said.
"We are very concerned about children that might have possibly been displaced and separated from parents, but also we are concerned about children that are living on the streets and those that have been associated with those armed groups," Strother added.
Meanwhile, the United Nations humanitarian agency (OCHA) has also voiced serious concerns about the protection of civilians amid reports of widespread looting and violence.
An estimated 316,000 people are living in the affected areas, and about 700,000 others in Bangui are at further risk of an escalation in fighting, it said in its latest situation report.
The Seleka rebel coalition's lightning three-week advance from the north of the country to within striking distance of Bangui has raised fears of a spreading crisis and drawn regional calls for peace negotiations.