(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

UN Special Representative in the CAR Oluyemi Adeniji

Oluyemi Adeniji is the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Central African Republic (CAR) and head of the UN mission in the CAR (MINURCA). The UN mission, with a troop strength of about 1,300, was deployed in April 1998.

The following is an interview Adeniji accorded to IRIN on 9 September.

QUESTION: MINURCA, with UNDP and donors, has supported the preparations for the 12 September and 3 October presidential elections. Are you satisfied with the preparation and organisation of the elections and are there any outstanding problems or areas of particular concern?

ANSWER: The preparations for the elections have been proceeding generally satisfactorily, even if there have also been some delays due mainly to the technical capability of some of the Central African enterprises involved in the preparations of some of the electoral materials. The Electoral Commission (CEMI), which is in charge of organising the elections, has
completed the validation of the electoral list and the voters' cards.

MINURCA, which has been given the mandate by the [UN] Security Council to assist in conveying the electoral materials to the major centres in the interior of the country, has distributed both the heavy electoral materials and the electoral lists and voters' cards as delivered to it by the CEMI.

It is of course the responsibility of the local Electoral Commissions to ensure the redistribution of the materials throughout the constituencies and the polling stations. Where there has been delay is in the printing of the ballot papers because of the lack of capacity of the local printing house that won the contract to deliver as promised. It has necessitated a
joint effort by the CEMI, MINURCA and the donors to assist in finding a solution to the delay and ensure the job is done.

Q: There has been some concern expressed about possible civil strife in the CAR in the post-election period. What do you feel is the likelihood of renewed civil strife emerging in the country?

A: The concern of possible post-election civil strife has unfortunately been fuelled by the rhetoric of some politicians who, contrary to all norms in a democratic process, have threatened not to accept the result of the election if another candidate wins. The excuse is that such a victory can only be the result of what they call "massive fraud". MINURCA for its
part, which has also been mandated to organise international observation of the election, is doing all it can singly and in collaboration with CEMI to ensure transparency in the preparations and in the conduct of the elections.

To this end, the MINURCA electoral officer has been working closely with the CEMI in addressing the technical issues. MINURCA has deployed a number of Medium-Term International Observers throughout the country to work with the local Electoral Commissions. Two-hundred Short-Term International
Observers are also being deployed throughout the country for election day observation. It is hoped therefore that with all these precautions, the transparency of the elections will be as much as possible assured and that grounds for post-election conflict will be averted.

Q: What role would MINURCA play in the event of election-related unrest?

A: The role of MINURCA generally is to assist the national forces of security to maintain and strengthen the country's security. Certainly the mission will play that role in case of any election-related unrest which turns violent and threatens security.

Q: MINURCA is scheduled to leave on 15 November, just 12 days after the second round of the election. Do you feel this is a wise move?

A: The departure of MINURCA on 15 November has been decided by the Security Council since the time of its resolution 1230 of February 1999. It was based, I believe, on the appreciation of the Council that by the time the presidential election is held, the Central African Republic would have been well on the way to settling its problems. However, it should also be borne in mind that the Council left room for a continued presence of the United Nations in a form to be determined later. The Secretary-General, who is expected to make recommendations on the form of
that presence, has expressed the view that he could only do so after the result of the presidential election is known. Obviously this also means that the Secretary-General would take account of the immediate-post election situation.

Q: What kind of an impact will MINURCA's departure have on the situation in the country?

A: The greatest impact is likely to be in the area of security. MINURCA's presence has been a source of assurance for all segments of the society and in particular foreign economic operators. Unfortunately the restructuring of the security forces, which was to have progressed and therefore be able to give a post-MINURCA assurance in the area of security, has been delayed. This is the greatest imponderable question. An uncontrolled army can easily create trouble.

Q: To what extent has the DRC conflict affected the CAR?

A: The DRC conflict has had a particularly serious impact on the CAR and particularly in the last three months. Any armed engagement by the parties to the conflict in the areas of the Congo bordering the CAR had the immediate impact of the flow of refugees, but also in some cases of the extension of the conflict into CAR territory. The capture of Gbadolite in July by the rebel Movement for the Liberation of the Congo [MLC] witnessed the retreat into the Mobaye area of the CAR of over 6,000 Congolese government soldiers with their military equipments.

Many of the soldiers brought their families with them and, with others, the civilian refugees reached a very high level. The fall of the town of Zongo across the Oubangi River also saw the retreat into Bangui itself of about 2,000 Congolese government soldiers, most of them with their equipments.Though most of the soldiers have since been repatriated, the impact of those who were billeted in the Mobaye area is likely to be long lasting in terms of depletion of the meagre resources of the area and
effect on the local population.

Q: What are the main challenges facing the country today?

A: The main challenges are in the areas of security, and socio-economic development. As observed earlier, the restructuring of the forces of security is crucial to long-term stability in the country. This would ensure ethnic balance in the composition as well as better training of the forces' elements. As Central Africans themselves had emphasised during the immediate post-conflict meetings of early 1997, such a restructuring is of
the highest priority. On the socio-economic side, there remains the challenge of transparency and accountability in the running of the economic sectors, as well as of increased productivity to enable the government meet its obligations.

Q: What are your hopes for lasting peace and full recovery in the CAR?

A: Lasting peace in the CAR will depend on the willingness of all sides in the political spectrum to commit themselves to the peaceful political transitions consensually agreed upon in the [1997] Accords of Bangui and the [1998] Conference on National Reconciliation. It will require overcoming sharp ethnic polarisation of the political actors. Economic recovery is already being vigorously pursued under the leadership of the
present Prime Minister who is personally leading the campaign for improved performance of state functionaries and strong efforts to keep to the agreements concluded with the IMF and the World Bank. Obviously, full recovery will take some time for an economy that has been so much ravaged over the years and whose performance has been also badly affected by political instability.

Q: Has MINURCA been a success, and what have been its main
accomplishments?

A: MINURCA has been able to fulfil a large part of the mandate given to it by the Security Council. It has improved the security climate especially in Bangui and the surrounding areas to which its mandate is limited. It has contributed immensely to the enhancement of the capacity of the national forces for law and order through its comprehensive programme of training for the Gendermarie and the Police. It has provided invaluable
assistance in the consolidation of the democratic process through its support for the organisation of the successful legislative election in November 1998, and is currently providing similar support for the forthcoming presidential election. The SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] has also provided his good offices for inter-party
negotiation on contentious issues of national importance.

In the key area of the restructuring of the armed forces, MINURCA tried constantly to emphasise its importance to the government and to encourage early commencement of action. To this end the mission took the initiative for the creation of a joint committee of MINURCA and CAR government representatives for drafting the enabling laws to provide the legal framework for the process. The non-promulgation of those laws by the
President [Ange-Felix Patasse] after they were adopted by the National Assembly [in May] has been a major stumbling block. The fact that MINURCA will withdraw before the issue even commences is preoccupying.

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