Central African Republic Holds Run-Off Vote Before France's Exitby
War-torn, diamond-rich nation to elect president in run-off
French soldiers will be withdrawn this year, UN troops remain
The Central African Republic will hold the final round of a presidential election on Sunday that’s meant to pave the way to restoring state authority in the diamond-rich country, as French peacekeepers are preparing to withdraw.
The election pits former Prime Minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele, who won 24 percent of the ballot in the first round, against Faustin-Archange Touadera, who headed the government from 2008 to 2013 and gained 19 percent in the Dec. 30 vote.
The election is seen by the United Nations as a first step toward ending the lawlessness that’s gripped the country since March 2013, when mainly Muslim rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize. His ouster was marked by widespread killings of civilians, triggering reprisals by a mainly Christian militia. An estimated 6,000 people have been killed, according to the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations.
A French military force that intervened in 2013 to stop the killings will be withdrawn this year, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said last month. The UN has a peacekeeping mission of about 10,000 security personnel.
The Central African Republic is partitioned between armed groups, and the interim government has failed to extend its authority outside the capital, Bangui, according to the UN. Even in that city, there have been frequent sectarian clashes around a Muslim enclave, which Pope Francis visited in September as part of an African tour. Almost a million people have fled their homes because of the violence, with more than half seeking shelter in neighboring countries.
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 were being shipped. The nation also has oil deposits in the north that form part of the same geological system tapped by Nigeria, the continent’s largest crude producer.
A vote to elect lawmakers will take place on the same day as the presidential run-off. The constitutional court last month annulled the legislative election because it had found irregularities.