UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations has imposed sanctions on the Central African Republic's former president Francois Bozize and two rebel leaders for undermining peace and fueling violence in the conflict-torn country.
They are the first Central Africans to be sanctioned under a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in January.
An alliance of Muslim rebel groups known as the Seleka overthrew Bozize in March 2013. They quickly became despised by Christians in the capital after Muslim fighters went on looting sprees, raping and killing civilians at random. An armed Christian movement known as the anti-Balaka, aided by Bozize loyalists, began retaliating several months later, sparking sectarian bloodshed.
Seleka was forced from power in January, a transitional government has been established, and about 2,000 French troops and nearly 5,000 African peacekeepers are trying to stabilize the country, which is about the size of Texas. But the violence continues and tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to the north or to neighboring countries, a displacement the United Nations has described as "ethnic cleansing."
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power on Saturday welcomed the unanimous decision by the Security Council committee established to monitor sanctions on the Central African to impose an asset freeze and travel ban on Bozize, Seleka leader Nourredine Adam and anti-Balaka political coordinator Levy Yakete.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because committee discussions were private, said Russia and China initially held up the designation of Bozize but recently gave a green light.
"Those who orchestrate violence and foment instability in CAR must be held accountable for their actions," Power said in a statement. "These designations are a small step in the right direction."
She said the Security Council "will continue to review additional designations of those responsible for undermining stability and tormenting the people of CAR."
Central Africans in the capital Bangui had differing opinions about the sanctions, with some saying Bozize was being scapegoated and others praising the move against the former president. Still others thought the sanctions didn't go far enough.
"It's weak as a sanction, Seleka wasn't sufficiently punished after all that they did," said Robert Mapika, a 30-year-old law student.
According to a sanctions committee note obtained by The Associated Press, Bozize provided financial and material support to anti-Balaka militiamen working to destabilize the current transition and to bring him back to power. He also called on his militia to commit atrocities against the current transitional government and the Islamists.
The committee said Yakete supports Bozize's return and has been accused of ordering the arrest of people connected to Seleka, calling for attacks on those who don't support the ex-president, and recruiting young militiamen to attack opponents with machetes.
Adam was one of the original Seleka leaders and was military coordinator of its offensives between early December 2012 and March 2013, the committee said, and without his involvement the Seleka would have been unlikely to oust Bozize. He still directs operations against Christian neighborhoods and provides significant support to the ex-Seleka operating in the country, it said.
Associated Press writer Steve Niko in Bangui, Central African Republic, contributed to this report