UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to ease the arms embargo on the Central African Republic's government following its signing of a peace agreement with 14 armed groups in February and progress in reforming its security sector.
The French-drafted resolution acknowledges "the urgent need for the CAR authorities to train and equip their defense and security forces to be able to respond proportionately to threats to the security of all citizens."
Central African Republic has been wracked by interreligious and intercommunal fighting since 2013, but council members cited positive developments since the peace agreement was signed.
In January, the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the arms embargo for a year but said it would review the measures in light of government progress toward achieving key U.N. benchmarks by Sept. 30.
The new resolution gives a green light for the country's security forces to be supplied with weapons with a caliber of 14.5 mm or less, and ammunition for them, with at least 20 days advance notification and specific requirements including that they not be transferred or sold.
France's U.N. ambassador, Nicolas de Rivière, welcomed the vote, saying easing the arms embargo "is based on the progress made by the Central African authorities" and is "a strong response" to an appeal from the government.
He said the resolution's approval will not only equip security and defense forces, but "is also an encouragement to the Central African authorities" to continue implementing security sector reforms.
"I would like to underscore that the return of lasting peace in the Central African Republic also requires combatting cross-border trafficking of weapons and ammunition that continues to equip armed groups," he said. "We call on countries of the region to work together with the Central African Republic to combat this trafficking."
Ivory Coast Ambassador Kacou Adom, speaking on behalf of South Africa and Equatorial Guinea as well, said the resolution will allow the government "to effectively protect its people and defend its territorial integrity, which for so long has been jeopardized by the increasing level of attacks from armed groups."
Adom said that "sanctions still have a role to play in supporting the political process," noting that "the CAR peace deal faces a difficult moment as the government prepares to go for the 2020-2021 electoral process."
The three African nations on the Security Council view the peace agreement as "the best means of establishing a normal life in the country," Adom said.
New U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, in her first appearance at the council after presenting her credentials earlier in the day, urged the region to end arms trafficking "that undermines the Central African Republic's national security."
"The irresponsible flooding of arms into a desperately poor and divided country would only increase the likelihood of a return to widespread bloodshed and violence," she said. "This is not what anyone wants."
She said the U.S. will continue its bilateral support to help Central African Republic authorities achieve the U.N. benchmarks and will work with others to support implementation of the Feb. 6 peace agreement.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, the current council president, said Moscow supports easing the arms embargo even further. "given how the situation on the ground has evolved."
"The CAR authorities expected more from the Security Council and a further modification of the arms embargo, and we believe that they have every reason to expect this," he said.
Russia will also continue providing support to the CAR government in reforming the security sector, "including in the area of strengthening combat effectiveness and training of the armed forces," he said.