Tuesday, 21 November 2017

BUSINESS AND ECONOMY

The UN mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) released rebel fighters accused of shooting a UN peacekeeper, confidential documents seen by the BBC show.

The two men were handed back to their commander in 2015 despite injuring the UN peacekeeper - a war crime under international law.

Because the incident happened shortly before crucial elections, UN officials chose to "appease the electoral process" by "set[ing] the alleged war criminals free, handing them over", a UN report says.

This revelation is the latest blow for a peacekeeping mission beset by problems.

'This cannot go unpunished'

The incident itself took place in December 2015.

Four rebel soldiers belonging to a mainly Muslim militia, Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) which translates as the Union for Peace in CAR, approached a UN checkpoint on motorcycles in the central town of Galaboroma.

A peacekeeper asked them to stop and told them to put their hands above their heads for a search. But instead, two of the men took out weapons and aimed at the UN troops, a confidential investigative report reveals.

UN soldiers shot back, killing a rebel named Junior and injuring another.

The remaining two rebels were arrested and transferred to the battalion headquarters in the nearby mining town of Bambari. The detained men had allegedly injured one of the UN peacekeepers.

Following a previous attack against civilians and UN peacekeepers, the UN mission in CAR, known as Minusca, said: "Any attack targeting the civilian population, UN and humanitarian personnel is a war crime that can be prosecuted in accordance with Central African law and international law."

For its part, the UPC denied that its troops had attacked the UN peacekeepers. "It's false," said UPC spokesman Souleymane Daouda.

But the UN's top official in Bambari at the time, Zlatko Bars-Dimitroff, recommended an "immediate transfer" of the rebels to Bangui for a "proper investigation" by local judicial authorities.

For the next 14 days, a flurry of emails between senior UN and CAR officials decided the fate of the two rebels - Rodolphe Sombo-Igain and Ilyassa Ibrahim.

'They effectively let them go'

"Kindly convey to UPC leadership that by taking such reckless actions their elements have committed a serious crime which cannot go unpunished," Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, known as Minusca, wrote in an email obtained by the BBC.

"UPC would receive a strong message that attacks against Minusca [the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR] will have consequences (no impunity)," Mr Bars-Dimitroff wrote in agreement.

Yet, in order to "appease the electoral process in Ouaka Region, UN authorities decided to set the alleged war criminals free, handing them over to local UPC leader Ali Darassa," the confidential UN report says.

 
Fergal Keane visits Bambari - where UN peacekeepers separate two rival warlords.

Human Rights Watch has documented multiple war crimes committed by Mr Darassa and his faction, one of the major rebel groups fighting for control of the country's resource-rich central region.

Technically, the two rebel soldiers were released on "liberté provisoire", (provisional freedom) and effectively means the court can still investigate the suspect while that person is free from detention.

But "releasing someone on 'liberté provisoire' in the current context, is effectively just letting them go," explained Human Rights Watch researcher Lewis Mudge.

Published in Business and Economy

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