C. Africa launches peace talks without rebels or opposition
A woman lays a flower wreath at the base of a monument in Bangui on February 23, 2022 representing Centrafrican soldiers and Russian armed men protecting a woman and her children. A hundred Central Africans gathered in the streets of the capital Bangui on Wednesday to thank the Russians for saving them from the rebels and wish the same to the people of Donbass. (Carol VALADE / AFP)
(AFP) - The Central African Republic on Monday kicked off national reconciliation talks in a bid to bring peace to the troubled country -- but no rebel groups were invited and the opposition is boycotting the forum.
President Faustin Archange Touadera promised in late 2020, following his controversial re-election, to hold the so-called Republican Dialogue for reconciliation.
The political opposition had demanded such talks, but it was a major surprise when last week Touadera announced they would start on Monday and last just a week. The agenda looked very vague and lacked concrete aims.
Several hundred people were in attendance at the opening in the national assembly -- representatives of the ruling party, civil society and invited guests.
"We are all mobilised around ideas for peace ... There is no taboo subject," said the president, guarded by two masked Russians.
"We are here to lance the boil ... to wash dirty family linen in public," Toudadera added.
- Opposition boycott -
On Sunday, virtually the whole opposition announced a boycott of the forum because the rebels were not invited.
Opposition parties also complained the agenda made no mention of the "question of the post-election crisis".
This is a reference to the disputed vote, when less than a third of the electorate were able to cast their ballot as most of the country is in the hands of armed groups.
The agenda offers little real detail on the dialogue process, promising a "roadmap" to better integrate the opposition and civil society.
Regional experts and diplomats said that without rebels or opposition there is little chance of improving security.
The forum, they said, looks increasingly like an attempt to pacify the international community, which has put the Central Africa, one of the world's poorest nations, on a drip feed.
Half of the population endures acute food insecurity, according to the United Nations, which has been present in the country since 2014 in one of its costliest ever peacekeeping missions.
In the run-up to the December 2020 polls, the capital was threatened by a coalition of armed groups.
Touadera called on the Kremlin and hundreds of Russian paramilitaries arrived to join hundreds of others already present since 2018, and rescue a destitute army.
Described by Moscow as unarmed instructors but by the UN as mercenaries, they easily drove the armed groups out of the cities they occupied.
The rebels have since changed tactics, from occupation to guerrilla warfare.
But the army and Russian allies do not have the means to occupy the land and restore state authority for long -- unless there is a stable peace.
The stated aim of the dialogue is to "restore peace and security".
It was not until last Thursday that the organisers released the agenda -- a list of five "themes" that include "Peace and Security" and "Political Governance, Democratic and Institutional Strengthening".
The opposition says it wants peace.
"We are looking for sincerity. We want a political agreement that will make it possible to find peace," said Aurelien Simplice Zingas of the main opposition coalition, COD-2020.
© Agence France-Presse