A near decade-long insurgency which stoked insecurity in the Central African Republic’s (CAR) northern regions has eased after the disbandment in May of two main rebel groups there, bringing hopes for stability.
The Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) and the Republican Forces Union (UFR) dissolved and their fighters begun to disarm under peace agreements with the government.
The 7,000-strong APRD, which formed in 2005, carried out its first attacks against the army two years later in the northern town of Pahoua in Houam Pende region; later, clashes spread to the central region of Nana Gribizi.
Fighters ruthlessly attacked civilians, religious leaders, aid workers and their property, forcing residents to flee to the bush or to neighbouring Chad. The UFR, with a smaller force of some 2,000 fighters, operated only in the northern Kabo region.
On 17 and 18 May respectively, the APRD and the UFR announced their dissolution, raising hopes of an end to years of insecurity and suffering by the local population.
“We have stopped hostilities since 2007 after signing a comprehensive peace agreement in Libreville in Gabon, allowing the free movement of people and goods in areas we control. We are disarming, but the government should ensure our security and give us all we need,” said Lakoue Maradas Nado, a regional APRD commander.
Figures, however, vary on the number of APRD rebels who have been disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated since the ex-rebel chief Jean-Jacques Demafouth signed the peace deal with the government in 2008 and committed to disarmament.
“APRD’s disbandment is a security gauge for the residents in the north. It marks the end of fear, the end of the checkpoints set up by the ex-rebels, and it will encourage a return of the displaced and refugees as well as a resumption of farming in these areas which were CAR’s breadbasket,” said Macaire Niwe, a sociologist.
The CAR government has acknowledged the rebels’ disarmament while the UN representative in the country, Margaret Vogt (also head of the disarmament plan), expressed satisfaction with the programme.
Vogt said she “acknowledges APRD’s disbandment… and that of the URF a day later by its leaders. The international community appreciates the true value of this gesture.”
Former rebel leader Demafouth said his fighters were now ready to work as part of the security forces.
“Regarding demobilized troops, they become ordinary citizens because the movement no longer has a reason to exist,” he added.
“They have an amnesty that protects them. I am the national coordinator of the UN reintegration programme for the former fighters. We will help them find work, reform their lives.