Three days of reconciliation talks with representatives of the Séléka rebel coalition that overthrew the central government of the Central African Republic last March are set to conclude Wednesday. Nine Seleka leaders had traveled to nearby Brazzaville to participate in Republic of Congo-mediated negotiations alongside some 169 delegates from the C.A.R.’s interim government, civil society and armed groups.
Congolese authorities had hoped that the brief summit would produce an immediate ceasefire that would have Séléka fighters preparing for disarmament within 45 days, as well as the return of foreign militants to their home countries in the same period. (The conflict in the C.A.R. has attracted mercenaries from Chad, Uganda and Sudan). But the rebellion won’t be ended so easily. On Monday, the head of the Séléka delegation Mohamed-Moussa Dhaffane announced that any peace deal will be contingent on partition of the Central African Republic – a Muslim north and a Christian south. Such a measure would cement the sectarian divide that has come to characterize the conflict, as vigilante Christian militias took up arms to defend their homes from predominantly Muslim fighters, ultimately targeting Muslims non-affiliated with the Séléka movement as well. The result: an exodus of tens of thousands of Muslims from southern CAR, and the additional displacement of one million people from both sides (nearly a quarter of the population).
The Séléka fighters have made little secret of their desire to create a Muslim enclave. And yet the call for partition reportedly came as a surprise to mediators, who were quick to reject the proposal. Jean Marie Michel Mokoko, the head of the African Union peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic stated: ” Whatever the case, at the moment, we are not interested in that aspect [of partition].” Further muddying the waters is the absence of regional power player Chad in Brazzaville, following its decision to withdraw its troops from the C.A.R. Which leaves international observers in an uncomfortable position. A U.N. peacekeeping force is set to deploy in September – if a ceasefire is in place. And while the official response from Paris is one of pressing concern, France, which has 2,000 troops on the ground and which just launched an anti-terrorism campaign in the Sahel, is in no position to commit additional troops or resources to the C.A.R. conflict.
As for the rebels themselves, there is little indication that the insurgency is committed to peace efforts. Séléka delegates skipped the second day of talks on Tuesday. This, mere days after the movement rebranded itself as the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic, and re-elected coup leader and ex-interim President Michel Djotodia as its leader. If anything, former Séléka rebels are taking advantage of rushed negotiation efforts to dig in their heels and consolidate control over the Central African Republic.