Preparations for the repatriation of 3,000 followers of a Chadian former rebel leader have started in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). If successful, the month-long operation will be an important step towards the return of peace and security in northern and north-central CAR.
Abdel Kader Baba-Laddé, the leader of the Popular Front for Recovery (Front Populaire pour le Redressement, or FPR), surrendered on 3 September and returned two days later to Chad to make peace with the government there. A committee - chaired by chief CAR ombudsman Paulin Pomodimo and supported by the UN and the multinational force in CAR - has been formed to oversee the repatriation of those of his followers who are Chadian, the majority of his forces.
These followers are leaving the town of Ippy in central CAR, where the FPR holed up after a joint attack by CAR and Chadian armed forces in January 2012. "Women and children will be part of the first convoy, and men will follow after," said Ferreira Firmhino, a senior government mediation and repatriation official. They will head first for Bangui.
After several failed attempts at negotiations and dialogue, “General” Baba-Laddé surrendered, saying he would finally "make peace with the Central African population".
But human rights activists are opposed to his unconditional repatriation, even if this is welcomed by civilians displaced by FPR’s activities.
Over 20,000 displaced
Baba-Laddé, who once served in the Chadian police, arrived in CAR in 2008, taking advantage of the lack of state security forces in the northwest.
Based mainly in Ouandago Commune, his group, which included some local unemployed youths, was accused of committing atrocities against civilians. A 29 May 2012 report presented by the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in CAR (BINUCA), said 22,000 people had been displaced by FPR.
Fulani pastoralists were also targeted, often facing hold-ups and ransom demands. “Sometimes Baba-Laddé took our cattle. Sometimes, if he pleased, he bought them for a sum of his choosing. He also had us escorted by his men to the cattle market in Bangui, where we sold the cattle and handed over the money to him before being allowed to go,'' said Diodi, a cattle trader in Bangui.
Baba-Laddé’s presence also affected the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of other combatants in CAR.
An expert with BINUCA working on the DDR programme told IRIN that the armed group the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD), based in northern-central CAR, had set as a condition for surrendering its weapons the disarmament or repatriation of Baba-Laddé’s forces. This led to the suspension of DDR activities in September 2011. It took the ''neutralization'' of Baba-Laddé’s forces in January for APRD to be completely disarmed and disbanded.
Demands for justice
After his surrender, local NGO Network for Promoting and Defending Human Rights (ROPDDH) said Baba-Laddé’s crimes “may fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.''
ROPDDH issued a 4 September press release calling for justice for Baba-Laddé’s “many victims of banditry”.
The National Mediation Council thinks this is "fair and normal", but not urgent. "This is not the priority. You cannot launch a lawsuit against this man while his followers still have weapons in their hands and are in CAR," said Ombudsman Paulin Pomodimo.
The ombudsman also pointed out that there would be no DDR programme for Baba-Laddé’s Central African supporters. They will simply be gathered in Bangui before returning to their respective communities, except for an unknown number who accept Chad’s offer to host them.