Two women mourn on February 9, 2014 in Bangui the death of two relatives killed in the 5th district, one the of the city's central neighbourhoods. According to witnesses, at least ten people have been killed since the night before in central Bangui, and many buildings burned, after violence broke out near the district hall of Bangui's 5th district. Large-scale looting was also taking place in the same neighbourhood in the morning of February 9 despite the deployment of French troops and Central African gendarmes. The International Criminal Court in the Hague said on February 7 it had opened an initial probe into war crimes in the Central African Republic. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)
August 1, 2014

LAST WEEK’s cease-fire between warring Christian and Muslim factions in the Central African Republic was a modest agreement, designed only to halt fighting without charting a road map forward. But it took just two days for the deal to be declared dead by the Muslim militia’s military chief. That all but ensures the conflict, which has displaced almost a million people, will add more casualties to its present death toll of more than 2,600.

The violence has fueled a humanitarian crisis in which most of the Christian-majority nation needs assistance, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. At least 28,000 children are expected to experience severe malnutrition this year if conditions don’t improve. Since the Muslim-led government collapsed this January, Muslims have fled from Christian strongholds, with 150,000 having left the country altogether.

The cease-fire failed mainly because there were no credible representatives from the warring groups. No effective command-and-control structure exists, making the agreement difficult to enforce among various divisions within the factions. Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza’s transitional government has been unable to restore security. Only 8,000 African and French soldiers are managing what United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called a “state of anarchy.”

This makes urgent the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, totaling 10,000 military personnel and 1,800 police, who are scheduled to arrive in September. The United Nations must ensure that these peacekeepers deploy on time. Considering that this force will need to manage an entire nation’s law and order, more neighboring and Western countries should also send troops.

Amid the despair, there’s been one positive: The international community has stepped up its involvement. The cease-fire agreement, however brief, would not have been possible without diplomacy by the Congo Republic. The United States has sent $118 million in humanitarian aid and offered tactical support. The European Commission has given $47 million in aid.

But it’s not enough. Less than a third of the U.N.’s goal of $209 million for displaced refugees has been met. The African Union and neighboring countries haven’t made a concerted push for reconciliation between the two sides. Beyond more aid, the United States can leverage the Central African Republic’s neighbors to help support truce efforts and assist the country in rebuilding its institutions.

The experience of Rwanda should have taught the consequences of inaction. As the cease-fire collapse demonstrates, the Central African Republic will keep falling down a dark hole without outside help.

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