CAR diamond feud sees ceasefire

Rebel groups fighting over diamond mines in the Central African Republic have signed a ceasefire, ending weeks of deadly violence, public radio announced on Sunday.

The government in Bangui had announced late last month that the rebel Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and the former rebels of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) had agreed on a ceasefire.

“The CPJP and the UFDR have just signed the ceasefire,” national radio boss David Gbanga said.

“This proves that during the talks both parties expressed their commitment, their desire to restore peace in the parts of Haute-Kotto, Vakaga and Bamingui-Bangoran which have in recent days been the scene of internecine fighting,” he said.

The fighting has centered on the diamond town of Bria, in the centre of the country, and cost more than 50 lives in September.

The UFDR is dominated by the Ronga and the CPJP by the Goula, two rival ethnic groups who have feuded over the region’s diamond mines for years.

Josue Binoua, minister for territorial administration, had said late last month he would bring the CPJP’s Abdoulaye Hissene and the UFDR’s Zakaria Damane to the capital to thrash out a ceasefire deal.

According to public radio, the five-point agreement includes “an immediate cessation of hostilities, of media campaigns and of all exactions and violations of human rights.”

The ceasefire also provides for “a withdrawal within eight days of the deal’s signing of all their forces from the town of Bria and redeployment back to their respective bases.”

Bria is the country’s main diamond mining hub and according to a report published late last year by the International Crisis Group and entitled Dangerous Little Stones, diamonds are fuelling conflict.

The UFDR has signed a peace agreement in 2008 and the CPJP a ceasefire in June this year but ICG said diamonds stoked a type of conflict that is best described as “banditry under a rebel flag”.

“The government’s refusal to distribute national wealth fairly has led jealous individuals and disenfranchised groups to take up arms for a bigger slice of the cake,” the ICG report said.

“President Francois Bozize keeps tight control of the diamond sector to enrich and empower his own ethnic group but does little to alleviate the poverty that drives informal miners to dig in perilous conditions,” the report said.

Industrial mining never took off in the impoverished country and most diamonds are extracted by an estimated 80 000 to 100 000 unlicensed miners equipped with picks and shovels.

The ceasefire agreement announced Sunday also mentions the fact that the CPJP “commits to joining the Libreville comprehensive peace agreement without further delay”.

The Bria ceasefire comes less than a week after the government set up a special committee which includes national and international mediators and is aimed at bringing holdout rebels on board the 2008 peace accord.—AFP

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