UN peacekeepers patrol outside Bria, Central African Republic, following violence that the UN said had sent an "uninterrupted stream" of residents toward makeshift camps. May 26, 2017 (Cassandra Vinograd/Associated Press)

Earlier this month, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien issued an alarming call to address early warning signs of genocide” in the Central African Republic (CAR). The nature and dynamics of the conflict affecting the country have dramatically evolved in the past few months, and recent episodes of violence have amounted, at a minimum, to ethnic cleansing. What seemed to be a contest between armed groups for economic and political gains has increasingly been entangled with renewed inter-communal, inter-ethnic, and inter-confessional hatred, especially in the central and eastern parts of the country.

The conflict that pitted the Séléka coalition, mostly composed of Muslims fighting for improved consideration of their community, against anti-Balaka militias, mainly composed of Christian self-defense groups, had decreased in intensity with the promise of an inclusive dialogue, the Bangui Forum, and the organization of elections. The Séléka was disbanded, and the groups that composed the coalition have been waiting for substantive negotiations with the elected government, while holding control of parts of the northern and eastern parts of the country. The anti-Balaka also committed to disarm, with some joining community violence reduction programs supported by the UN Mission for Stabilization in CAR (MINUSCA).

However, that status quo failed to develop into a sustainable reconciliation and peace process. After his election in 2016, President Faustin Touadera made disarmament of armed groups a condition for opening negotiations, which raised frustration among ex-Séléka groups and prompted attempts to reorganize the Séléka coalition by the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC). The FPRC achieved only mixed success in this initiative: Unlike the Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC) and the Assembly for the Renaissance of Central Africa (RPRC), the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) refused to coalesce, and the Séléka movement has been marked by deepening fractures along ethnic lines. Read more