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Chad Withdrawal from CAR Raises Risks

  • Anne Look

A Chadian soldier, part of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, keeps guard during the beginning of a road repatriation to Chad in the capital Bangui, Jan. 22, 2014.
Many people in the Central African Republic are welcoming Chad's decision to withdraw its troops from the African Union peacekeeping force in the country. However, there is concern that trouble between the two countries could impede efforts to re-establish government control over the northeast, much of which is still under the control of the ex-Seleka rebel coalition.

The news that Chad is withdrawing troops from the peacekeeping force in the C.A.R. came as a surprise Thursday. As it filtered through the streets of Bangui, many nodded in approval.

A man said it was a wish come true because Chad has meddled in the C.A.R.'s affairs too much over the past two decades.

Others said Chad's involvement in this ongoing crisis has simply grown too controversial.

He said Chadian troops kept being implicated in too many incidents hurting civilians and they were accused of abuses in the interior of the country. He said even when they did good, it was misinterpreted. "They are always accused of being pro-Muslim and that causes problems," so he said, "it is better they just go."

In Bangui, it is not uncommon to hear people use the terms Chadian, Muslim and Seleka interchangeably.

In a Muslim part of town, the PK5 neighborhood, people said Chad's departure was "a little worrying."

A man said the anti-balaka militia were afraid of Chad. He said "they know if Chad iss there, they can't attack us."

Chad's Foreign Ministry, in its statement withdrawing its peacekeepers, said "despite the sacrifices made, Chad and Chadians are the target of a gratuitous and malicious campaign blaming them for all the suffering" of the C.A.R.

The announcement came amid public outrage after Chadian forces opened fire in Bangui's PK12 neighborhood on March 29. U.N. human rights investigators said Friday that at least 30 people were killed and more than 300 injured.

It was unclear whether anti-balaka militia had provoked the soldiers. Survivors told VOA that Chadian troops fired indiscriminately as bystanders fled a market area in panic.

C.A.R.'s transitional government pledged to investigate the incident, something that may have irked Chadian authorities.

Chad's military is seen as one of the most capable in Africa. Chad currently contributes about 850 of the 6,000 soldiers in the AU peacekeeping force, known as MISCA.

Chad also sent in its army to evacuate tens of thousands of Muslim civilians from the C.A.R. as inter-communal killing raged early this year.

Chad did not give a timeline for its withdrawal from MISCA. Analysts said the pullout could be a setback for the already overtaxed and under-resourced MISCA force.

Chadian MISCA troops are currently deployed in the north and northeast, in zones still under the control of the ex-Seleka rebel coalition. The C.A.R.'s transitional government wants to regain control of that area.

Central Africa expert at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research, Roland Marchal, said for that reason, Bangui cannot let relations with N'djamena go sour.

He said President Idriss Deby was angry but his attitude was likely to evolve. He said a small contingent of Chadian forces, not in the MISCA, could remain to keep an eye on the north and the east of the C.A.R. He said this was not just about the C.A.R.'s territorial integrity. Chad also did not want trouble on its southern border.

On Friday, the C.A.R.'s Foreign Ministry expressed "regret" at Chad's decision to withdraw from MISCA but said it remained "reassured" of Chad's continued support in the resolution of this crisis.