UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations Secretary-General said Wednesday that the Central African Republic is at a critical moment and everything must be done to ease growing communal tensions and preserve gains to keep the fragile nation on the right path.
Antonio Guterres will travel to the Central African Republic next week, to meet with the country’s leaders and visit the nearly 12,000-member U.N. peacekeeping mission.
The country has been struggling with sometimes deadly inter-communal tensions for the past five years between two armed groups -- the mostly Muslim Seleka and largely Christian anti-Balaka.
Another serious outbreak of violence between the two groups erupted in May, and Guterres warned that the situation remains very troubling.
“Across the country, communal tensions are growing, violence is spreading, and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating," he said.
The numbers of people in need of humanitarian aid is surging, with almost 600,000 internally displaced and more than half-a-million driven to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The violence has been deadly for peacekeepers and aid workers, as well as civilians.
Guterres said he has asked the Security Council for an increase in peacekeepers to calm the situation.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the C.A.R. has been the epicenter of sexual abuse and exploitation allegations against the United Nations. One mission chief has been fired and peacekeepers from accused countries have been repatriated.
Guterres will be accompanied on his visit by his recently appointed victims’ rights advocate.
“We are determined to ensure that the voices of victims are heard – I will myself be ready to meet with victims and their families – in and beyond the Central African Republic. Victims must be at the center of our response if we want our zero-tolerance policy to be successful,” he said.
Guterres said despite challenges, fragile gains such as the election of a president and government and the establishment of a special criminal court must be preserved and strengthened.