Central African Republic faces increased rebel activity and spillover from Sudan war, UN experts say

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Activities of armed groups in the volatile Central African Republic have increased, complicating a security landscape that has seen a spillover of the conflict in neighboring Sudan, U.N. experts warn in a new report.

The panel of experts cite confirmed reports of air raids by the Sudanese military around border areas and of fighters from the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces crossing over to recruit from armed groups in the Central African Republic.

Sudan plunged into conflict in mid-April 2023, when long-simmering tensions between its military and paramilitary leaders broke out in the capital Khartoum. Fighting spread to other regions including Darfur, which borders the Central African Republic’s northeastern Vakaga region. The U.N. says over 14,000 people have been killed and 33,000 injured in the Sudan fight.

The expert panel, which monitors sanctions on mercenaries and armed groups in the Central African Republic, said the U.N. had registered almost 10,700 Sudanese refugees who had fled across the border by late March. It said 565 new refugees, the vast majority women and children, arrive at the Korsi refugee camp in the northern city of Birao every week.

The war in Sudan has also disrupted the important trade and transportation route between the Central African Republic and Sudan's Darfur region through the border at Am Dafok. That has left people in Vakaga and neighboring Haute-Kotto more insecure over the past year and aid deliveries slower and more expensive, the panel said.

The Central African Republic remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite its vast mineral wealth, including gold and diamonds Rebel groups have operated with impunity across the country over the past decade, thwarting mining exploration by foreign companies.

The country has been in conflict since 2013, when predominantly Muslim rebels seized power and forced then President Francois Bozize from office. Mostly Christian militias fought back.

A 2019 peace deal did not end the fighting, and six of the 14 armed groups that signed later quit the agreement. The Coalition of Patriots for Change, an alliance of rebel groups aligned with Bozize, was founded in the aftermath of the agreement, but the experts cited no progress and the splintering of some rebel groups.

Mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group along with Russian military instructors have been working in the Central African Republic at the government’s request.

The experts said that on Dec. 10, 2023, six waves of explosions were heard at the Russian instructors’ base in Kaga Bandoro in the west of the country, and three instructors were killed and seven people injured.

They said the attack appeared to be in response to an assault three days earlier by the country's military and Russian instructors on fighters from the UPC rebel group at the Bara mining site. A dozen UPC fighters were reportedly killed and 30 captured, the experts said in the report, which was released Friday.

The panel said activities by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal armed group accused of mass killings, recruiting boys to fight and using girls as sex slaves, have also been disrupted by the war in Sudan. The LRA is led by one of the world’s most wanted men, Joseph Kony, who formed the group in his native Uganda and then scattered his followers across parts of central Africa.

“The group appears to have left its long-held bases in the disputed area of Kafia Kingi and moved to a mountainous zone in Haute-Kotto Prefecture,” the panel said. “This move brought LRA in proximity to towns in the eastern part of the Central African Republic and may have provided an opportunity for some group members, held against their will, to break free from the group.”

The International Criminal Court said in March it will present evidence to back up charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity filed leveled at Kony during the global court’s first-ever hearing in absentia starting Oct. 15.

The panel of experts said Kony's son, Ali Kony, himself targeted with U.N. sanctions, arrived in Uganda last July. Their report quoted media reports as saying Ali Kony defected fron his father's group in July 2021.

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press