The UN Security Council on Thursday agreed to open the door to a possible easing of the arms embargo on the Central African Republic to allow weapons supplies for government forces fighting militias who control much of the country.
The council unanimously adopted a French-drafted resolution that calls for a review of the arms embargo by September if the Bangui government meets a series of benchmarks.
The United Nations arms embargo was imposed in 2013 when the country descended into bloodletting after President Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.
Former colonial ruler France intervened militarily under a UN mandate, pushing the Seleka from power, and a UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSCA, was established to help restore stability.
With most regions outside the capital still overrun by armed militias, the government in Bangui has repeatedly called for the restrictions to be lifted to allow arms deliveries to shore up its security forces.
The council decided to extend the arms embargo until January 2020 but laid out steps that could lead to a partial lifting.
A series of benchmarks to be agreed by April will set goals to meet in reforming the security sector, disarming militias, managing weapons and ammunition.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will submit a report by the end of July on whether the government has met the benchmarks after Bangui presents its own findings by June 30.
The arms embargo will be reviewed by September 30 “in light of this assessment,” according to the resolution.
Loud and clear
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said after the vote that the resolution reflected a “real openness” from the UN council to a partial lifting of the arms embargo as sought by the government.
“Their message was heard loud and clear,” said Delattre, describing the measure as a “roadmap that in a few months’ time could lead to a slight lifting of the arms embargo.”
A UN sanctions committee has already granted several exemptions to allow shipments of weapons from France, Russia, China, the United States and Belgium to the poorly-equipped army.
Russia and the European Union have sent military advisors to train the armed forces, known as FACA.
Thousands of people have been killed during violence in the Central African Republic, one of Africa’s poorest countries, where a quarter of the population have fled their homes because of unrest.
At the height of the bloodshed in 2013, France warned that the country was on the verge of a genocide with reports of atrocities committed by roaming militias.
The vote at the council came as the latest round of peace talks between the government and armed militias stumbled in Khartoum over demands for an amnesty for rebel commanders.
The Sudan-hosted talks which opened last week are expected to continue for up to three weeks.
The resolution also renewed the mandate of a panel of experts who reported to the council last month that fighters of the former Seleka alliance had received fresh weapons supplies from traffickers in Sudan.
The militia groups are re-arming to counter the deployment of the newly-trained and equipped government troops to their areas of influence, the panel’s report said.
The United Nations has deployed a 13,000-strong mission to CAR, which is tasked with supporting the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadera following his election in February 2016.