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U.N. Takes Over CAR Peacekeeping Mission, U.S. Reopens Embassy

Twenty-one months and 5,000 deaths into a raging sectarian conflict in the Central African Republic, African Union peacekeepers turned in their green berets for blue helmets on Monday, marking the official takeover by the United Nations of the operation. Increased military and police support from the U.N. coincided with the United States’ decision to provide ...

PACOME PABANDJI/AFP
PACOME PABANDJI/AFP
PACOME PABANDJI/AFP

Twenty-one months and 5,000 deaths into a raging sectarian conflict in the Central African Republic, African Union peacekeepers turned in their green berets for blue helmets on Monday, marking the official takeover by the United Nations of the operation.

Increased military and police support from the U.N. coincided with the United States' decision to provide an additional $28 million in relief to the former French colony and reopen its embassy in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui. The embassy closed in December 2012 when then-President Francois Bozizé was ousted by the Muslim rebel group Séléka, which seized control of Bangui in March 2013.

"The people and leaders of the Central African Republic have made progress in ending the violence and putting their nation on a path toward peace and stability," Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday. "But we all know that much work remains to be done."

Twenty-one months and 5,000 deaths into a raging sectarian conflict in the Central African Republic, African Union peacekeepers turned in their green berets for blue helmets on Monday, marking the official takeover by the United Nations of the operation.

Increased military and police support from the U.N. coincided with the United States’ decision to provide an additional $28 million in relief to the former French colony and reopen its embassy in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui. The embassy closed in December 2012 when then-President Francois Bozizé was ousted by the Muslim rebel group Séléka, which seized control of Bangui in March 2013.

"The people and leaders of the Central African Republic have made progress in ending the violence and putting their nation on a path toward peace and stability," Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday. "But we all know that much work remains to be done."

Michael Djotodia, a Muslim unaffiliated with Séléka, was recognized as the nation’s transitional leader in April 2013. With a Muslim in power and the Séléka rebel group running the capital city, a Christian opposition group, the Anti-Balaka, soon emerged. Intent on regaining power, unprecedented violence plagued the nation where Christians and Muslims had co-existed relatively peacefully since breaking from France in 1960.

Since 2013, a 6,000-member African Union peacekeeping force has worked alongside approximately 2,000 French troops to maintain order. But it hasn’t been enough, prompting the U.N. Security Council to deploy a force of 12,000 U.N.-commissioned peacekeepers.

As of Monday, 1,800 troops from from Morocco, Bangladesh, and Pakistan were on the ground in CAR as part of the UN’s new mission.

Though Muslims managed to gain control of the country’s major cities in the 2012 coup, they comprise just 15 percent of the country’s majority-Christian population. Fighters from Sudan and Chad aided their takeover.

Muslims in Bangui have since been blamed for the vicious behavior of Séléka, even though the group hails from the northeast and have garnered little support from local Muslims.

By December 2013, Djotodia was forced out of office amid criticism he was unable to control increased violence.

Since Anti-Balaka overthrew Djotodia’s government in December, peacekeepers have described scenes of unprecedented brutality against Muslims, with U.N. reports documenting unprovoked murders stemmed by fear, anger, and desperation.

When interim president Catherine Samba-Panza replaced Djotodia in January, she was dubbed "Mother Courage" for her willingness to take on the seemingly insurmountable task of repairing a country devastated by two years of mass murder, rape, and destruction.

"The Central African Republic and its people are at a crucial juncture," Kerry’s statement continued. "The United States is determined to help make this moment of opportunity a success."

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