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US Thanks, Supports Peacekeepers in CAR

  • Nick Long

African Union peacekeepers guard a commercial convoy making its way to the border of Cameroon, near Bangui, Central African Republic, March 8, 2014.

African Union peacekeepers guard a commercial convoy making its way to the border of Cameroon, near Bangui, Central African Republic, March 8, 2014.

The United States has handed over dozens of vehicles to the African Union military force in the Central African Republic, and promised 200 more, as well as more funding for peacekeeping.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power was in Bangui to review plans for converting the current African Union mission here into a U.N. peacekeeping mission. The U.N. Security Council is expected to authorize that move on Thursday.

Power attended a ceremony Wednesday at the base of the African Union mission MISCA, where she praised the peacekeepers’ sacrifices.

More than 20 men of the African mission and two men of the French military mission Sangaris have been killed in the line of duty since December.

Power lauds peacekeepers

Power said the situation has not calmed yet, but told the peacekeepers they have prevented a much greater catastrophe from unfolding.

"As terrible as the situation remains, it would be far worse if it were not for your efforts to protect civilians, disarm militias and create areas where families can be safe. I commend you on behalf of President Obama and the United States, for your brave service and urge you to persevere," she said.

Power said the U.S. also is contributing armored vehicles, in addition to the others. She said U.S. support for the mission, including airlifts and other assistance, totals more than $100 million.

The AU mission is still facing the fallout from two incidents late last month in which Burundian and Chadian troops were accused of fatally shooting a number of civilians in Bangui.

Chad has since announced the withdrawal of its 850 troops from MISCA in the face of increasing hostility from many Central Africans.

Engaging the international community

Power expressed sympathy for the peacekeepers.

"Even the best and bravest efforts can be misunderstood because they fail to achieve instant miracles. Peacekeepers deserve better," she said. "You may not be greeted by a parade when you return home, but please know that you have the world’s gratitude for your courageous service."

The ambassador also told VOA she has been consulting widely on what the international community can do to help Muslim communities in the western C.A.R. which are still under threat -- and whether it should do more to help them relocate to safer areas.

"I think part of the challenge is to get a sense of what the individuals in these communities want," Power said. "Often there are spokespersons for whole communities, and I think what the U.N. is trying to do is make sure we go on a case-by-case basis and not have a situation where anybody who wishes to leave somehow feels pressed to stay simply for the sake of showing that there’s still diversity in the Central African Republic."

She said once the Security Council votes to authorize a U.N. mission, the military presence should be ramped up to prepare the AU mission for “rehatting” as blue helmets from September 15, as the U.N. secretary-general has requested.