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Central African Republic Seeks More United Nations Aid As Violence Grows


The Trump administration has been looking for ways to save money at the United Nations. Officials are taking a hard look at every U.N. peacekeeping mission. And one that they're reviewing right now is in the Central African Republic, where U.N. officials say they need more resources, not less. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When international peacekeepers first started arriving in Central African Republic in 2013, Muslim and Christian militias were battling each other and targeting civilians.

PARFAIT ONANGA-ANYANGA: We literally prevented this country from going into a full-fledged genocide.

KELEMEN: That's Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the U.N. special representative for CAR. He was here in Washington to talk about this peacekeeping mission. He says violence is on the rise again and he needs more troops.

ONANGA-ANYANGA: There will never be enough peacekeepers to bring peace to CAR. But what is important is to make a strategic surge that would enable us to regain control of some of the areas still dominated by armed groups, to better protect civilian populations, which is the core of our business in CAR, and also help expand state authority.

KELEMEN: Right now the government controls little beyond the capital Bangui, he says, and the humanitarian needs are immense. An Amnesty International researcher, Balkissa Ide Siddo, was recently in the southeast of the country speaking with Christian villagers who fled an attack by Muslim fighters.

BALKISSA IDE SIDDO: Men were systematically killed. So civilians were targeted, killed. Women were raped. And rape is currently being used as a weapon of war in the Central African Republic.

KELEMEN: And those villagers, she tells us via Skype, are losing faith in U.N. peacekeepers.

SIDDO: They showed up two days later when it was already over. So they expect more from the peacekeeping mission. They expect them to be able to prevent abuses.

KELEMEN: The Amnesty researcher says it's clear that the U.N. needs a stronger mandate in Central African Republic. But the mission has also been dogged by another problem - allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers. The U.N. special representative acknowledges the problem.

ONANGA-ANYANGA: And of course we'll be investigating each and every case thoroughly in such a way that there will be no more place to hide. We want to move from the zero tolerance policy of the secretary general to an effective zero occurrence.

KELEMEN: Onanga is also making the case to the U.S. that its continued support is a security matter. Areas not controlled by the government in Central African Republic can easily become sanctuaries to warlords and terrorists.

ONANGA-ANYANGA: If nothing is done, those ungoverned spaces will become a threat not only to the Central African Republicans, you know, but also to the region and from the region to the whole world. And that's, of course, something that we all have to work together to avoid.

KELEMEN: And the Trump administration gets that, according to Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon.


TOM SHANNON: CAR, from our point of view, is a really challenging case, but one with profound implications not only in Central Africa but elsewhere. This is a country that has literally torn itself apart through sectarian violence.

KELEMEN: And he says it's important to help stitch it back together. But the U.S. is still taking a hard look at the U.N. operation.


SHANNON: For the benefit not just of our taxpayers but all contributors, we need to have clear understandings of what we can accomplish and how long we think we're going to be there.

KELEMEN: The U.N. says at least there's a functioning government in Central African Republic. And part of the exit plan is to extend that government's reach and ramp up a program to disarm and demobilize thousands of fighters elsewhere in the country. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN DANLEY'S "THE ART OF TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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