Chad, a key player in the international effort to restore stability in crisis-torn Central African Republic (CAR), where Christians and Muslims are locked in sectarian violence, has threatened to withdraw its troops from the 6,000 strong African Union peacemission (MISCA). Chad contributes 850 men to the force, and France another 2,000. The threat is in reaction to charges that N’Djamena is supporting the mainly Muslim Seleke militia group that seized power in a coup in CAR last year, thereby provoking tit-for-tat violence with Christian militia.
“Despite the sacrifices we have made, Chad and Chadians have been targeted in a gratuitous and malicious campaign that blamed them for all the suffering in CAR”, Chad’s foreign ministry said in a statement announcing the planned withdrawal. This is a reference to an incident on March 29 in Bangui involving Chadian soldiers sent to evacuate their distressed compatriots. According to news reports, 24 people were killed and 100 “seriously injured” in that clash.
However, the chair of the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), Nigeria’s Lolo Bulus, has defended the Chadian soldiers, saying that they acted in self defence. Speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the AU secretariat is, Ambassador Bulus also said that the number of casualties was much smaller than what the media quoted. “We are considering an information note by the Chairperson of the AU Commission on the March 29 incident involving the Chadian contingent to the International Support Mission to the CAR (MISCA)”, he explained.
“The information contains allegations and counter-allegations on what actually happened or did not happen.But we have established that the Chadian troops acted in self-defence, while the number of casualties as reported in some media was much higher than actual”.
We understand the position of the Chadian government. It hurts to be accused of bias when you have put the lives of hundreds of your soldiers on the line to help a sister nation. Trust has been eroded. However, a hasty troop withdrawal is not the right response to an equally rash and baseless accusation. Such a retreat will leave innocent people at the mercy of those that have made the allegation.
We advise N’Djamena to tarry a while for the 15-member AU PSC to conclude an investigation of the May 29 incident which it has already started. Moreover, the words of Ambassador Bulus which are not accusatory should calm frayed nerves in Chad. “We have reiterated our previous warning to the spoilers of the peace efforts in CAR to desist or face the music for their actions”, he said. “No matter how long it will take, we will make sure that there is personal accountability for all actions. Whoever is contributing negatively or not contributing positively to the consolidation of peace will be a target of these targeted sanctions and measures”.
Tough talk. But the AUPSC must also walk the talk.