With rare unanimity, the United Nations Security Council voted Thursday to authorize the use of foreign troops in the Central African Republic to restore civil order. While the military intervention may help curb the spreading violence between Christians and Muslims, the larger task will be to restore the country’s moral order.
Under the UN mandate, France and the multination African Union plan to deploy as many as 4,600 soldiers in a country with 4.6 million people. The United States has promised $40 million in support. If the deployment fails to end the violence, the UN will consider sending 9,000 of its peacekeepers. A similar UN force recently helped defeat a rebel group in nearby Congo.
Since a coup in March, the impoverished but mineral-rich Central African Republic has descended into chaos. Muslim rebels have raided villages, pushing Christians, who form a majority, to set up defensive militias. The potential for genocide has escalated with each massacre and other atrocities in the former French colony.
The violence has caused a breakdown in the coexistence long enjoyed between Muslims and Christians. The social and religious compact has been usurped by local warlords trying to plunder the country’s wealth and take control of the capital, Bangui. About 10 percent of the people have now been displaced, with aid groups hampered in reaching them.
While the UN resolution calls for a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations, the country needs more than justice. The foreign intervention should also facilitate an interreligious dialogue that will help renew the bonds of each community. Military action is not enough. Each village needs help in healing the wounds of hatred.
Fortunately, even amid the fighting, many religious leaders – Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim – have worked together in a few communities, not only to calm tensions but to take care of the displaced. This recognition of a common faith in each other’s humanity can be the basis for restoring the country’s civilian government.
France plans to hold a meeting of African leaders in Paris on Saturday to discuss what will happen once foreign forces bring peace. The ultimate response to the armed militias is not the UN-approved force of arms. Rather, rebels must also see that civilians of all faiths prefer to live together without violence and with mutual respect.