Russia and Sudan have hosted talks in Khartoum among some of the Central African Republic’s rival militias, CAR officials said on Wednesday, while documents showed the groups had signed a preliminary agreement.
The meeting in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday unfolded in parallel to an official mediation effort in the troubled CAR led by the African Union (AU).
Russia and Sudan “took the step of holding a meeting in Khartoum with the heads of armed groups,” Communications Minister Ange-Maxime Kazagui said in a statement read on national radio.
The CAR exploded into violence following the 2013 overthrow of longtime leader Francois Bozize, a Christian, by majority-Muslim militias in a coalition called the Seleka.
France, the former colonial power, intervened to oust the Seleka and the UN deployed a peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, in 2014.
But President Faustin-Archange Touadera, elected in 2016, controls only a fraction of the country.
Most of the territory is overrun by armed groups, many of which claim to protect Christian or Muslim communities, and which often fight bloodily over resources.
Violence has led to thousands of deaths, while according to the UN, nearly 700,000 people have been internally displaced, 570,000 are refugees abroad and 2.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid.
Three Seleka groups and a nominally Christian militia leader signed a “declaration of understanding” in Khartoum on Tuesday, according to the document, which was obtained by AFP.
The three Seleka groups are the Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic (FPRC), led by Noureddine Adam; the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), led by Ali Darassa; and the Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC), led by Mahamat Al-Khatim.
Maxime Mokom, who heads one of the biggest nominally Christian armed groups, also signed the document.
– Russian role –
The initiative in Khartoum marks the latest sign of Russia’s deepening involvement in the CAR, a country that is poor and fragile but strategically located and rich in gold, copper, iron ore and uranium.
Since the start of the year, Russia has supplied weapons to the CAR army after gaining UN authorisation to do so and provides close protection for Touadera, whose security advisor is Russian.
It has also sent five military officers and 170 civilians as “instructors” for CAR’s armed forces, even though its troops are already being trained by the European Union.
On the diplomatic front, Russia has twice attempted to mediate among the militias in the past two months, but without success.
The CAR communique on Wednesday said the government “takes note of the declaration” signed in Khartoum but “supports the AU’s initative for peace and reconciliation.”
The AU, supported by the UN and the CAR’s main partners, has been striving to set up negotiations between the militias and the government since July 2017 but progress has been scant.
An AU panel is scheduled to meet with the militias in the coming days in Bouar, western CAR, to “harmonise” 97 claims that the armed groups have set down ahead of any official agreement.
Seven peace agreements have been signed in the CAR over the past half-dozen years but none has had a lasting effect.