SARH, Chad/GENEVA: Chad said Wednesday it had withdrawn its entire force from the Central African Republic in the wake of accusations its troops waged an unprovoked attack in a market last month.
The pullout of over 800 troops who made up a key contingent in the African peacekeeping force MISCA struggling to restore security in the country came despite French appeals for Chad to reverse its decision.
“The last soldier crossed the border on April 13,” Souleyman Adam, the head of the Chadian peacekeeping unit, said at a ceremony in the southern town of Sarh, about 100 kilometers from the frontier.
Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno had ordered the pullout after the U.N. said troops had opened fire in a crowded market in the capital Bangui on March 29 in an attack that left around 30 people dead.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission said an investigation had found that the troops fired “without any provocation,” claims branded defamatory by Chad.
Chadian soldiers have been accused of siding with the mainly Muslim Seleka movement – which seized power in March 2013 and held it until January this year – and of condoning the abuses carried out by some of them against the majority Christian population. Chad has always denied the charges, and has said it wants to keep working with its neighbor to rebuild security there.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, Prime Minister Pahimi Deubet Kalzeube chastised those he said were seeking to “tarnish the image of our valiant defense and security forces.”
A total of 833 Chadian soldiers have returned home after a mission that left 15 of their comrades dead.
Thousands of people have been killed and many more have fled in waves of bloodshed that have convulsed the Central African Republic since a coup in March last year.
Some 8,000 foreign troops – 2,000 from former colonial power France and most of the rest from the African MISCA force – are trying to disarm rival militias after a year of brutal Christian-Muslim violence.
U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres told AFP Wednesday that the conflict could embroil the whole region and threaten global security.
“It’s not easy to put Central African Republic on the map of concerns of public opinion in general and governments in particular,” Guterres said.
“But the truth is that Central African Republic has the potential of generating levels of insecurity at regional level that can bind with other crises,” he said in an interview.
The resource-rich but impoverished country borders violence-wracked South Sudan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while other countries in the region such as Nigeria and Mali have also been mired in conflict and drought.
Thousands have been killed and around a quarter of the country’s 4.6 million people displaced – mostly Muslims, who make up around one-fifth of the population – and the humanitarian crisis is spiralling.
“We see fighters going from country to country, and now that a religious dimension was added to the Central African Republic crisis, all this can contribute to an increase in threats to global peace and global security,” Guterres said.
In the past four months, nearly 200,000 people have fled the country, mostly to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. Refugee numbers are expected to reach 362,000 by the end of the year, the U.N. forecasts.
Aid agencies launched a $274 million appeal Wednesday for refugee operations in CAR’s neighbors.
But an existing $550 million appeal for operations inside the country remains chronically underfunded, having drawn just a fifth of the sum.
“Our presence in the field is constrained both by security and funding,” said William Swing, head of the International Organization for Migration, at the appeal launch.
With the Syria war, and now the conflict in Ukraine, occupying international attention, African crises tend to get forgotten “even if from the humanitarian point of view they are absolutely appalling,” Guterres told AFP.