Last updated on September 11th, 2021 at 08:22 am
Major Ashif is tense as he watches from the turret of his armoured vehicle as the muddy road in front of him slowly unwinds.
His is the lead vehicle in a UN escort shepherding a convoy through northwest Central African Republic (CAR), one of the world’s poorest and most violent countries — and the thick undergrowth on either side of the road is perfect for an ambush.
And, in line with the CAR’s tortured history, those likely to carry out any attack are members of an armed group that has signed up to a peace deal.
The militia calls itself the 3R, from the words in French meaning “Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation”.
One of the most powerful rebel groups in the country, the 3R claims to defend the Fulani — a cattle-herding community also called the Peul.
In February last year, the 3R’s chief, Sidiki Abass, joined the heads of 13 other armed groups to sign an accord in Khartoum on ending the country’s endemic violence.
The 3R was born in 2015 to defend the Fulani, who are Muslim, from a Christian militia called the anti-balaka.
But the convoy’s trip through the northwestern landscape provides telling clues of a more ancient conflict.
The road through the bush eventually leads to a rocky, valleyed region.
Here, the semi-nomadic Fulani and sedentary farmers have squabbled for years over the use of land to graze herds.
All along the roadside lie the empty, ruined homes of farmers, many of them also Muslims, who have fled to neighbouring Cameroon.