The UN Secretary-General has called for parties in the Central African Republic (CAR) to prioritize national dialogue and consensus-building ahead of elections scheduled to begin in December.
“The coming period will be decisive for the country”, António Guterres told a high-level meeting on the country, held on Thursday. His remarks were shared after the meeting, which was held behind closed doors.
“The presidential, legislative and local elections represent a unique opportunity for national reconciliation and the consolidation of peace, as well as the country’s constitutional order and democratic achievements.”
A UN peacekeeping operation has been in the CAR since 2014 following intercommunal violence, largely between a mainly Muslim coalition known as Séléka, and a mostly Christian alliance, commonly referred to as the Anti-Balaka.
Despite an agreement signed last year between the Government and 14 armed groups, the CAR continues to suffer violence and human rights abuses. Ongoing humanitarian and development needs, which have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, also remain an urgent priority.
A crucial step
The Secretary-General said the elections also constitute a crucial step for the continuity of the political process, and he upheld the February 2019 accord as “the only viable framework” for lasting peace in the country.
“The authorities of the Central African Republic and all national stakeholders have a historic responsibility to ensure the proper conduct of these elections, which must be free, transparent, safe, inclusive and within the constitutional time limits”, he stated.
“I therefore call upon all stakeholders to prioritize national dialogue and consensus-building, in a spirit of respect and tolerance between different ethnic groups and religions.”
Putting people at the centre
The UN chief stressed that citizens, including those who fled to neighbouring countries, must reap the benefits of efforts towards peace and democracy.
“All segments of the population of the Central African Republic, in particular women, young people, internally displaced persons and refugees, must be at the centre of efforts to consolidate democracy and, consequently, of this electoral process”, he said.
The Secretary-General reported that there has been progress in implementing the agreement, including in legislative reforms, extension of state authority across the country, and a process for disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating combatants.
Security has also improved in some areas, thanks to the presence of the UN mission, known by the French acronym MINUSCA, which supports the authorities.
However, Mr. Guterres was concerned about the “significant number” of human rights violations and breaches of the agreement.
“The commitments made by all signatories must be respected”, he said, while strongly condemning attacks targeting civilians, humanitarian workers and UN peacekeepers.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry, UNIDO sign €2m agreement
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) have signed a €2m agreement to support Integrated Agro-Industrial Parks (IAIPs), funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation. Thes agreement will contribute to the development of the agro-industrial sector and the creation of decent jobs and economic opportunities in the rural areas of Ethiopia. The objective of the new project is to support the inclusive and sustainable development of four pilot IAIPs. Project activities will concentrate on increasing private sector involvement in agro-industry, improving food quality, safety and traceability, and promoting social inclusion and environmental sustainability.
With the support of UNIDO, the Government of Ethiopia has prioritized the establishment of the IAIPs as a primary tool to achieve agricultural modernization and rural industrialization in the country. To this end, the Government of Ethiopia has mobilized various funding sources and development partners for the implementation of IAIPs. The current project is for the development of the four pilot IAIPs, located in Oromia (Bulbula), Sidama (Yirgalem), Amhara (Bure) and Tigray (Beaker). The project is funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation, in alignment with the Italian strategy outlined in the Ethio-Italian country framework 2017 – 2019 which encourages sustainable and inclusive economic growth to ensure full employment and decent work for all, especially in rural areas, as well as promoting partnerships between Italian and Ethiopian institutions to ensure continuity of investment and transfer of technologies.
The signature ceremony was attended by Shisema Gebreselassie, State Minister of the Ministry of Industry, Aurelia Patrizia Calabrò, UNIDO Representative and Director of the Regional Office Hub, and Isabella Lucaferri, Head of the AICS Addis Ababa Office.
Sudan: Looting in Darfur, leaves 730,000 without enough to eat
The UN chief condemned on Wednesday the looting and attacks against United Nations facilities, equipment and supplies gifted to the Sudanese authorities for civilian in El Fasher, Darfur.
Last Tuesday evening, a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse located in the Borsa area of El Fasher town, the capital of North Darfur State, came under attack from unknown armed groups.
Over 1,900 metric tons of food commodities that were meant to feed 730,000 vulnerable people for a month were stolen.
The incident followed the looting and reported violence last week at the former UN-African Union Hybrid Operation (UNAMID) base in El Fasher.
The UN chief also asked the Sudanese authorities to facilitate the safe working environment and passage for remaining UN operations in the region.
He concluded by thanking the UN civilian and uniformed personnel who remain on the ground under “challenging” circumstances.
WFP cuts off aid
WFP chief David Beasley tweeted his outrage over the “senseless attacks” in El Fasher and strongly condemned the continued looting and destruction of the agency’s assets.
“As a result, we have been forced to suspend WFP operations in North Darfur, effective immediately”, said Mr. Beasly.
The theft has robbed nearly two million Sudanese of the food and nutritional support they so desperately need.
“Not only is this a tremendous setback to WFP operations, but it endangers our staff and jeopardizes our ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families”, he added.
The Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Khardiata Lo N’diaye, also condemned the looting.
“This was food assistance meant for Sudan’s most vulnerable people. Humanitarian assistance should never be a target”, she underscored.
Currently, one in three people in Sudan needs humanitarian assistance – equivalent to an estimated 14.3 million individuals.
According to the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, 25 per cent of those people require food security and livelihoods support.
An attack like this, the coordinator explained, severely impedes the ability to deliver to the people who need it the most.
“We urgently ask all parties to adhere to humanitarian principles and allow the safe delivery of life-saving assistance”, Ms. N’diaye stated.
WFP currently faces “unprecedented” funding shortfalls, estimated at $358 million.
Earlier in the month, thousands of people took to the streets to mark the third anniversary of the uprising that led to the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled for three decades.
Demonstrators who made for the presidential palace were also protesting October’s military coup and the political agreement signed later on 21 November.
UN officials and agencies expressed deep concern at the time over credible reports of serious human rights violations, including the use of rape and gang rape of women and girls, employed to disperse protesters.
As of 29 December, the security situation had been restored, according to State authorities.
Ms. N’diaye thanked the local authorities for preventing the situation from worsening but called upon the Government to step up efforts to protect and safeguard humanitarian premises and assets.
Thousands head home voluntarily from Zambia to DR Congo
Nearly 5,000 refugees who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) four years ago, are opting to head home voluntarily from Zambia over the coming months, with the first 100 people setting out on Tuesday.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that security had improved sufficiently in DR Congo’s Pweto territory, Haut-Katanga province, for them to go home “in safety and dignity”.
Inter-ethnic clashes as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militia groups in parts of southeastern DRC in 2017, have uprooted communities.
Through intention surveys carried out in October by UNHCR, some 4,774 refugees expressed their aim to voluntarily return to DRC.
The voluntary repatriation, which will continue into 2022, is part of the ongoing 2006 tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the Governments of Zambia and DR Congo.
Partners are supporting the returning refugees by providing voluntary repatriation documents, expedited immigration clearance, health screening and school certificates to allow children to resume their education in the DRC.
“As security has improved in some areas of Haut-Katanga, an estimated 20,000 refugees have spontaneously left Zambia since 2018 to return to their areas of origin – mainly to Pweto territory”, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists in Geneva.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency is working with authorities and development partners – such as Catholic aid confederation CARITAS – in DRC to advance reintegration projects, including education, health and agriculture, and to ensure conditions for safe and dignified returns.
Currently, some 18,000 Congolese refugees farm at Mantapala settlement – established in early 2018 to accommodate displaced people – alongside 5,000 Zambians, across 11 integrated villages.
As Zambia continues to host 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and former refugees, including more than 63,000 from DR Congo, over the past three years around 20,000 Congolese have left to return home.
The two agencies have provided buses and trucks to help transport refugees, their belongings and food for the journey, Families will receive a cash grant to help them pick up their lives again in the DRC.
“UNHCR will disinfect the buses, provide face masks, hand sanitizers and, together with the authorities, ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures are observed, including loading of buses to half the capacity”, Mr. Baloch said.
UNICEF has improved water and sanitation facilities at the reception centre in Chiengi district, where returning refugees are being housed for the night to process immigration documents, before embarking on the final leg of their journey home.
And Zambian authorities are providing rapid COVID-19 tests for the returning refugees, at the Mantapala Rural Health Centre.
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