Ambassador Power: Good afternoon – not “good afternoon”; “good afternoon” in Central African Republic, “good morning” in New York. Today the Security Council took an important step toward bringing an end to the atrocities, inter-religious fighting, and humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic by authorizing the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation. A UN peacekeeping operation can build on the security gains made by MISCA and French forces already in the country.
Having just returned from CAR this morning, I can personally attest to the critical urgency of bringing more security to the Central African Republic. My trip to the region started in Rwanda where I led the Presidential delegation to remember the victims of the genocide, twenty years after the events of April 1994 taught us the price of inaction in the face of mass violence. I also saw first-hand the resilience of the Rwandan people and the extraordinary progress they have made – a future of renewal that I wish, too, for the people of the Central African Republic.
While in Bangui yesterday, I had the opportunity to pay tribute to the French forces and the African Union forces from seven African countries. Though these soldiers may never receive a parade when they return to their home countries, I assured them of the United States’ and the world’s gratitude for their courageous service.
I also met with Transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza, who has done a tremendous job under extremely difficult conditions. I was inspired by her commitment to national reconciliation, her outspoken leadership in trying to bring an end to religiously motivated violence, and her conviction that perpetrators must be held accountable for their crimes. I assured her that the United States remains committed to helping the Transitional Government and would also increase our assistance to the people of the Central African Republic.
The violence that began in late 2012 – with growing attacks perpetrated by both Muslim and Christian militias – has brought the Central African Republic to the edge of disaster. AU troops have done heroic work and their sacrifices have saved lives. But untold horrors continue in small villages throughout the countryside, and more than 19,000 Muslims are trapped in the capital – too afraid of anti-balaka forces to leave their hiding places. So even as we plan for a UN mission, the United States will continue working with our friends to ensure that the African Union, French, and soon-to-arrive European forces have the support that they need to mitigate the violence and the many humanitarian challenges facing the people of the Central African Republic right now.
To that end, I’m pleased to announce that the United States has committed an additional $22 million in humanitarian aid for the people of the Central African Republic, bringing our total this year to nearly $67 million. This new assistance will address a range of pressing issues facing internally displaced persons and refugees, including health, protection, livelihoods, food distribution, and water and sanitation.
Now the Central African Republic needs all countries that pledged $500 million in aid in January, of which $200 million was for humanitarian action, to fulfill their promise. There are 2.5 million people – over half the country’s population – who are in need of assistance. And with the rainy season approaching, the conditions these people face will only worsen. We must do more; we can do more; and we must do it now.
Reporter: Sure, I wanted to ask, if you don’t mind, two questions. One is about, on this mission to the Central African Republic, with Chad having pulled its forces out, after the allegations by Navi Pillay’s office, what, what…how much more difficult does it make it, in terms of fully deploying? And I know on your trip you stopped in Burundi as well, so I wanted to ask you about…there’s a cable that says that weapons are being distributed, are being distributed by the CNDD Party to its youth wing, and it was briefed on in the Council on April 8th. And I just wanted to know what you think the Council should do about a cable like that, 20 years after what happened in Rwanda? Thanks.
Ambassador Power: Thank you, Matt. First, on the Chadian departure, I think – as my colleague from Chad testified just now in the Council – it has proven very challenging for the Chadian forces to operate in the Central African Republic, in part because Muslims, for a long time, have been branded “Chadians” by citizens of the Central African Republic. I think the Chadians offered significant solace to Muslims in the Central African Republic and, so – notwithstanding some of the incidents that occurred that of course caused great concern – there is a loss in seeing these troops depart. And I think particularly what I heard from the African Union commander is that there is – it causes concern among the Muslim population in the north – the displaced persons – who worry, who will protect us now?
Now, the African Union and the French have made adjustments. With the departure of the Chadians in the last few days, the Cameroonians and the French have stepped in to try to fill the gap. But it does only underscore the urgent – the critical urgency – of going forth right now, as we have been for months of course, but with heightened urgency to get more African troops to come in, in the period between now and September 15th when the African Mission will be rehatted as a UN mission. You know, the – just as a matter of statistics, the number of forces in the Central African Republic at a time when the security situation is still extremely grave, has just diminished. And so we need to get those troop numbers up to where they were before the Chadian departure. And then we need to find new force commitments, and that’s certainly something the United States is going to dedicate itself to at the highest levels.
On Burundi, I have seen reports along the lines that you have described, and certainly have been in close touch with our UN colleagues. One reason that I paid the visit to Burundi – the first member of the cabinet from the United States who’s ever visited the country of Burundi – was some of the alarming signs that we’re seeing from the decision to end the UN mission, at a time when there’s significant political volatility, to the very swift trials of 21 members – young people who were members of one of the leading opposition parties – to restrictive media laws, to moves to change the constitution; there are a whole series of worrying developments there. And of course the report from the United Nations only compounds our worry, because if you take a political crisis on the one hand and combine it with armaments on the other, that is – those are precisely the ingredients for the kind of violence that Burundi has managed to avoid now for a good few years. And it would be terribly tragic, after all the progress that Burundi has made, if it slipped into a large-scale political crisis and certainly of course if it descended into violence. And so that was very much my message to the president of the country and others.
Reporter: Ambassador, welcome back.
Ambassador Power: Thank you.
Reporter: The Foreign Minister of CAR mentioned in his remarks that he would like to see the Council lift the arms embargo against his country. Is there any likelihood the Council will take that up in the near future? And does the U.S. have a position on that at this point?
Ambassador Power: Yes, I – our view, certainly, is that the police, the gendarmerie, and – eventually, when it’s reconstituted – the army of the Central African Republic, needs to be trained, it needs to be equipped. And as the foreign minister said, Central Africans bear the primary responsibility for maintaining security in their country. And that’s why we’re working with them, in partnership – the international community is working with them – quickly to try to reconstitute their forces. I believe that they have the authority that they need in order to be able to be equipped in the fashion that they seek. But we are going to discuss that in the next day and just make sure they have what they need. But I believe if you look at the prior resolution that the arms embargo consists of a carve-out that would allow them what they’re understandably looking for. So we’re going to work that through.
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