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February 26, 2014

CAR Militia Leader Arrested in Congo Brazzaville

by Nick Long

*VOA incorrectly reported Wednesday that anti-Balaka leader Patrice Edouard Ngaissona had been arrested. VOA regrets the error.

The African Union has confirmed the arrest in the Republic of Congo of a leader of the Central African Republic's anti-Balaka armed movement.

The African Union mission to the C.A.R. has confirmed that Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, the self-proclaimed coordinator of the anti-Balaka armed movement, has been arrested with two other men by authorities across the border in Congo Brazzaville.

Ngaissona, who is also president of the country's football federation, appears to have fled the Central African Republic about February 15, when French and African Union peacekeepers captured several of his collaborators during an operation in Bangui to disarm anti-Balaka, whose name means “machete proof,” or “invincible”.

His name and those of several of the movement’s other commanders are on a list of wanted persons issued by C.A.R. prosecutors.

In a statement, the AU mission congratulated the Congolese authorities on the arrest, and said Ngaissona has often told media that he is the political coordinator of the anti-Balaka, who continue to terrorize the civilian population, particularly Muslims, and are a threat to peace.

The International Crisis Group’s C.A.R. analyst, Thierry Vircoulon, commented on the arrest. "It is part of the pressure put on the leadership of one faction of the anti-Balaka - called the CPLC - and Patrick Ngiassona since mid-January was the official representative of this faction in Bangui, and this faction was aligned to the former president [Francois] Bozize and his entourage," he said.

The question is whether the arrest of Ngaissona and other leaders will scare the anti-Balaka into better behavior.

"It will depend basically on how cohesive is the CPLC and the anti-Balaka movement. Some people think there is not much cohesion in this movement and there are a lot of commanders who basically do whatever they want on the ground," said Vircoulon. "So we will see what is the result of these arrests, but definitely it was necessary to put pressure on the leaders of this faction."

The anti-Balaka commanders arrested 10 days ago are still in jail, unlike some of their comrades who were arrested last month and were sprung from jail within a few days.

Vircoulon said the presence of AU peacekeepers at the prison probably has prevented a repeat of that episode.

The anti-Balaka still have a lot of popular support as the only Central African force that put up a fight against the Seleka, the largely Muslim rebel group that seized power in C.A.R. last year and committed many atrocities.  The anti-Balaka have many sympathizers among non-Muslims who are the majority of the population.

They are not militarily very powerful, said Vircoulon, but he suggesed their military threat is not the main problem. "They just have some basic weaponry, but I think the problem right now is the international security forces are not adapted to this kind of threat. They are posing more of a police problem than a military problem at this stage."

Bangui and the rest of the country currently have very few police. Vircoulon said  more policing capability should be a high priority for the peacekeeping forces in the country.