Central African Republic Vote Aims to End Spiral of Violence

  • UN says country faces `critical' human rights situation
  • About 30 candidates vying to win presidential election

The Central African Republic holds presidential and legislative elections that are meant to establish an elected government able to restore state authority and persuade militia leaders controlling most of the diamond-producing nation to disarm.

The elections take place against a backdrop of what the United Nations considers a “critical” human-rights situation, with near-daily violence by armed groups against civilians, including arbitrary murders and detentions, lynchings and rape.

Two earlier deadlines to organize the vote were missed. While almost 2 million people inside the country have registered to cast ballots, fewer than 55,000 of the 470,000 refugees abroad were able to do so, according to the UN. Thirty candidates, including two former prime ministers, Martin Ziguele and Anicet-Georges Dologuele, are running for president. A second round will be held on Jan. 31 if none of the candidates wins a majority. The vote scheduled for Dec. 27 was postponed for three days, Reuters reported, citing people it didn’t identify.

“While elections will not resolve the country’s longstanding problems, and carry their own risks, there can be no lasting stability without the establishment of inclusive institutions,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the Security Council last month.

The Central African Republic was the world’s 10th-biggest diamond producer by value in 2012, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Trade in the country’s precious stones was banned a year later after the Kimberley Process, which seeks to halt the sale of gems from war zones, said there was no way to determine whether so-called conflict diamonds had been eliminated from shipments.

The 2013 ouster of President Francois Bozize by mainly Muslim rebels was marked by widespread killings of civilians, prompting non-Muslims to set up armed groups known as anti-balaka militia. Lawlessness has gripped the landlocked nation of 4.7 million people ever since.

An interim government appointed in January 2014 has failed to extend its influence outside the capital, Bangui, leaving the countryside largely under the control of former rebels and militias that earn income from illegal exports of gold, diamonds and other resources, according to the UN.

Several rebel-faction leaders asked their followers to allow a peaceful vote.

“We decided to turn the page of dark history that our country has known through these next elections, which will establish new democratic institutions,” Abdoulaye Issene, leader of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, a faction of the mostly Muslim Seleka militia, said by phone from Kaga Bandoro, a town in the north.

A UN peacekeeping force of 10,000 troops faces routine attacks outside Bangui. Former colonial ruler France won’t start reducing its 900-member contingent until “the new president is able to exercise his authority,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian told Paris-based weekly Jeune Afrique this month.

Bozize’s Kwa Na Kwa party and the anti-balaka militia endorsed Dologuele on Wednesday.

“Everything is done in a hurried way because the international community want to work with a government that’s not transitional,” Lewis Mudge, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said by phone from Nairobi, Kenya. “Whatever the new government will be, it’s going to have major collaboration from international donors.”

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