UN mission chief calls for loosening of Central African arms embargo

The council imposed the embargo on CAR in December 2013 after Muslim Seleka rebels seized power.

FILE: A file photo taken in December 2014 shows UN peacekeeping soldiers patrolling in Bangui, Central African Republic. Picture: AFP.

ABIDJAN - The United Nations (UN) envoy to Central African Republic (CAR) called on the Security Council to loosen an arms embargo amid worsening lawlessness in the capital Bangui that threatens to further delay elections and jeopardizes a planned visit by Pope Francis.

The council imposed the embargo on CAR in December 2013 after Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian nation earlier that year, spurring reprisal attacks from mainly Christian anti-balaka militias.

The Seleka later handed power to the transitional government under international pressure. Transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza has long called for changes to be made to the embargo to make it easier to arm government security forces.

The current UN embargo, due to be renewed in January, allows government security forces to be trained and equipped with weapons and other gear if approved by a UN Security Council sanctions committee.

UN envoy Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said in a statement on Wednesday that he was aware of Samba-Panza's view of the arms embargo and that he had written to the council sanctions committee asking for "a loosening of the measures and the reinforcement of interior security forces."

But Onanga-Anyanga's letter, seen by Reuters on Thursday, does not ask for any changes to be made to the arms embargo.

It requests approval from the committee for a delivery of 80 helmets and bullet-proof vests and 30 rifles for Central African Republic security forces. It also asks for UN peacekeepers to be allowed to train some CAR forces in crowd control.

"You may be aware of the deteriorating situation in Bangui over recent weeks. With elections pending, and the planned visit by the Pope, we are keen to improve the security situation as quickly as possible," Onanga-Anyanga wrote in the letter.

Militia attacks and tit-for-tat violence have killed about 90 people since September, prompting calls from politicians and civilians to rearm the military. The interim government has yet to rearm it after officers were linked to Christian militias.

The CAR police and gendarmerie carry weapons and a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission has been deployed there since September 2014.

Pope Francis is due to visit the country this month but has signalled his trip could be cancelled if the violence worsens. Elections, originally due to be held on 18 October, are scheduled for 13 Decemeber.

UN forces said on Wednesday anti-balaka militias attacked a convoy it was escorting multiple times, wounding two peacekeepers and a civilian driver. Witnesses said three civilians were killed when peacekeepers returned fire.

The UN mission is investigating civilian casualties, a UN peacekeeping official said.