- The national dialogue and reconciliation introduced by Central African military leader François Bozizé has led to greater stability in the country. Achievements however are fragile and progress depends on foreign investments, which fail to arrive, especially since the US recently removed the country's special trade benefits and the EU suspended its cooperation.
Recent trends in the Central African Republic are reviewed in a new report to the UN Security Council, presented regularly by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The UN has a Central African peace-building mission, known by its French acronym BONUCA, which has been in the country since February 2000 when it took over from a peacekeeping mission.
Mr Annan in his report, which was released today, says that national dialogue had served to foster stability in the Central African Republic but the security situation remained dire while the economy was precarious. The report says the dialogue, which aimed at reconciliation and involved 350 delegates gathering in September and October last year, had helped to quell rumours of the current government's instability.
- However, Mr Annan adds, "I am gravely concerned by the re-emergence of acts of rape, hold-ups and violations of the right to life perpetrated in the country's hinterland and in Bangui," the capital. "Control of the security situation remains an essential prerequisite for the normal functioning of the State, a smooth transition, and the holding of the upcoming elections," he stresses.
The UN Secretary-General adds that credible, transparent elections cannot be held unless security improves, civil servants are regularly paid and there is a process of general, complete disarmament. He also holds that Mr Bozizé's military government "should proceed with the adoption of a new basic law and a revised electoral code and carry out an electoral census."
During the period under review, the expected improvement in the human rights situation had not occurred, Mr Annan concluded. "In fact, the situation has deteriorated." BONUCA was however promoting fundamental human rights principles, including the protection of press freedom.
- The overall situation in the Central African Republic is changing slowly, Mr Annan says in his concluding remarks. "It is less troubled than it was before the national dialogue, when the atmosphere was often charged with suspicion and rumours - mostly unfounded - of the destabilisation of the regime."
The UN Secretary-General however warns that the Central African Republic could return to "instability, with incalculable consequences for its people and the entire subregion," unless the international community gives more humanitarian aid and offers support to the country's budding electoral process.
This lack of international aid and funds was also the cause of the failure of the civilian government of Angé-Felix Patassé, which was overthrown by General Bozizé in a military coup last year. President Patassé was unable to pay civil servants and maintain public services, let alone start on reconstruction and economic development.
According to Mr Annan's report, this situation has not yet changed, and the Bozizé government is experiencing "grave cash flow problems." Negative economic growth was expected for 2003. The country has not received financial assistance from the World Bank and IMF since the political crisis began in 1999.
During the last months, the European Union (EU) partially suspended its cooperation with the Central African Republic due to "shortcomings" in President Bozizé's economic policies. Japanese authorities however have increased their bilateral cooperation with the country; a move welcomed by Mr Annan.
After Mr Annan's report was written, however, the Central African government has experienced yet another economic setback. Last week, the United States dropped the Central African Republic from its list of countries eligible for tariff preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
President George W Bush announced that the Central African Republic, along with Eritrea, was "not making continual progress in meeting the requirements" for maintaining the trade preferences given by AGOA. Central African exports to the US, which consist mostly of minerals and metals, will thus meet more difficulties in 2004.
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