UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The president of the transitional government in conflict-torn Central African Republic said Saturday the country has great hopes that the new U.N. peacekeeping mission will help restore security and promote development.
Catherine Samba-Panza told the U.N. General Assembly that the success of the U.N. force will hinge on the involvement of the country's security and defense forces at its side.
She asked the U.N. Security Council to re-examine the arms embargo on Central African Republic, which was imposed in December for a year.
Mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in poor, landlocked country in March 2013, overthrowing the president of a decade. Their leader stepped down in January, setting off a series of reprisal attacks by the anti-Balaka Christian militia.
Months of the unprecedented sectarian fighting has left at least 5,000 people dead and forced thousands of Muslims to flee to the north, and violence still rages in the provinces. The country's forces have been ineffective in restoring security.
Samba-Panza said political instability over two decades has made the country extremely vulnerable and it continues to experience "an alarming situation." She said her election to head a civilian transitional government "gave rise to great hope" of a radical break with the past.
Samba-Panza said she is working with help from the international community to organize national elections by February and tackle the country's humanitarian crisis.
She said that after a July 23 cease-fire agreement it is time to move toward disarming all armed groups and bringing all parties together to consider "a new republic and pact to recast the Central African state." She urged international support.
The Security Council in April authorized a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force for the Central African Republic to replace an African Union force. But when the U.N. took over peacekeeping duties on Sept. 15, its strength was only 7,500, including 4,800 African troops and 1,000 international police from the previous mission and about 1,700 new troops and police.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters that it will take another three or four months for the rest of the peacekeeping force to arrive.
While "the logistics in a landlocked country like Central African Republic are absolutely daunting," he said the mission so far is going "pretty well."
The security situation in the capital, Bangui, is far better but nothing is totally solved, Ladsous said, with some violence continuing in PK5, one of the last neighborhoods where Muslims still live after a mass exodus following brutal violence earlier this year.
The peacekeepers face an enormous task: bringing peace to a country the size of Texas with some 4.6 million people and little infrastructure. Its vast north was largely anarchic even before the violence erupted and is home to a number of rebel groups.
"The success of this mission will also hinge on the involvement at its side of the national security and defense forces to support this mission as a result of their intimate knowledge of the ground," Samba-Panza said.
Associated Press Writer Cara Anna contributed to this report from the United Nations.