U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Central African Republic on Saturday for the first time since the country erupted into sectarian bloodshed four months ago, where he promised those displaced by the violence they could “count on the international community.”
The visit comes just before the U.N. chief stops in Rwanda to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide there. Ban has been among the most vocal of world leaders in calling on countries to prevent a similar tragedy in Central African Republic, where a political crisis has divided Muslims and Christians.
International aid groups have criticized the U.N. response to the crisis, though Ban himself has spoken forcefully about the need to protect civilians in Central African Republic, where at one point earlier this year Muslims were being killed by Christian mobs in the streets on a near-daily basis.
“I am here to show my solidarity and that of the international community,” Ban told a group of displaced residents among the tens of thousands still living on the grounds of the airport protected by French troops.
African countries have contributed 6,000 peacekeepers to the effort in Central African Republic, though neighboring Chad began withdrawing its 850 troops on Friday amid a dispute over clashes last weekend that left more than 30 civilians dead. The Chadian forces maintain they were returning fire, while a U.N. preliminary investigation has found they shot indiscriminately into a crowd of civilians.
France has 2,000 troops in its former colony, though a European Union effort to send reinforcements has stalled amid an apparent reluctance to contribute forces.
The U.N. Security Council will vote on a U.N. peacekeeping force in April. Ban has urged council members to act quickly on his recommendation for a 12,000-member peacekeeping mission.
Ban is due to address Central African Republic’s National Transitional Council late Saturday and also plans to meet with interim President Catherine Samba-Panza.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.
SOURCE: STEVE NIKO and KRISTA LARSON