It was once known as the ‘Bridge of Death,’ the frontline between warring factions in the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). Legendary tales were shared of the bridge being drenched in blood, with even Government security forces scared to set foot on it.
Fast forward to 2014, when the United Nations peacekeeping mission was deployed to CAR and steps began to be taken to bring together the militias in attempts at community reconciliation. It was not till October 2016, that local leaders joined forces with the UN peacekeepers to convince the militia groups to disarm and re-open the bridge.
Today, it is simply known as the Yakite Bridge. Located in the PK5 neighbourhood of Bangui, the strife-torn capital, it is booming with traffic and local merchants from both Christian and Muslim communities, thanks in part to the stabilization efforts of the UN peacekeeping mission.
This commercial suburb of Bangui is crowded with small traders trying to get back to normal business. Many traders have returned from neighbouring countries, including Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they escaped violence.
“We are looking for peace. Now we want reconciliation, but they are still killing Muslims,” says Lawadi Ismael, a representative for the neighbourhood, adding: “When the fighting broke out in 2013, I never left. Now, business is slowly resuming, but these attacks against Muslims must stop,” as he blames the Government for its alleged passivity, while asking the UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSCA, to do more to protect them.
VIDEO: Keeping the Peace in the Central African Republic.
We followed a joint patrol of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) to the PK5 neighbourhood, the site of numerous clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebels and the anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, during the civil conflict that erupted in 2013.
A unique aeronautics surveillance unit supports the patrol with live information gathering capacity: a camera equipped aerostat balloon, and three hover masts mounted on vehicles, send videos in real time to the joint operation centre, indicating any crowd movement or potential threats. This is used to guide the patrol to areas which need security, while protecting their members.