Long-promised national reconciliation talks will take place next week in the perennially restive Central African Republic between the government and unarmed opposition groups and civil society, a presidential decree said on March 15.
The CAR was plunged into bloodshed along sectarian lines in 2013 when the then president, Francois Bozize, was toppled by a predominantly Muslim militia.
Military intervention by France, the country’s former colonial ruler, helped stabilise the situation, enabling the deployment of the MINUSCA UN peacekeeping force.
“The Republican Dialogue will be convened from Monday 21 to Sunday 27 March 2022 in Bangui,” said the decree, signed by President Faustin Archange Touadera.
Peace still remains elusive and powerful armed groups that arose during the conflict retain significant clout.
A coalition of these armed groups tried to topple Touadera ahead of elections in December 2020 but were thwarted after Russia flew in hundreds of paramilitaries and Rwanda sent its own military contingent.
The Kremlin describes the Russians as “unarmed instructors”, while the UN and France say they are Wagner personnel who have carried out repeated abuses.
Touadera was re-elected, but with the participation of less than a third of the electorate due to the vast rebel offensive.
The president had promised a “national reconciliation dialogue” but has so far been unable to deliver on that promise.
Last October the main Central African Republic opposition parties rejected his dialogue plans, with the Coalition of the Democratic Opposition (COD-2020) saying that Touadera “doesn’t want peace, or the return of security, or reconciliation”.
It remains to be seen how much can be achieved in the seven days allotted for the reconciliation talks.
“More than 450 participants from the nation’s active forces, opposition and civil society” are to meet at the National Assembly, government spokesman Albert Yaloke Mokpeme told AFP, with the talks focused on “peace and security”.
“We do not want any more armed groups and rebellion in our country,” he added.
Opposition leaders said the deadline was hasty.
“We would like it to take place in April as it would give the participants a little more time to organise,” said Martin Ziguele, a lawmaker.
“It is a little hasty. We have important topics to address. I have not received an invitation and right up until this morning, they were drawing up the list of participants,” said Anicet-Georges Dologuele, a former prime minister and founder of the main opposition platform.
The announcement came a day after Chadian authorities handed over to the International Criminal Court a former Central African Republic militia leader accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka is suspected of crimes committed in 2013 and 2014 “in Bangui and other locations in the Central African Republic”, the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, said in a statement.