26 November 2013

Central African Republic Waits for International Help

Photo: IRIN/Hannah McNeish
Displaced people from CAR

The UN Security Council aims to strengthen the peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic. France has promised to send 1,000 troops. The people hope this will put an end to the violence and despair.

For years, the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic has been rather dramatic whether in times of peace or conflict. According to the country's project director at Doctor's Without Borders [MSF] Sylvain Groult, mortality rates for children [in CAR] were worse than in Somalia.

Since the release of the report, he adds, "the already difficult situation has further deteriorated." As a result of violence and the gradual collapse of the state over the past few months, almost all of the already sparsely-equipped health centres have closed. "The professionals who work in these structures outside of Bangui have all fled. The equipment, the drugs, the facilities have been looted extensively over the last few months," Groult adds.

According to estimates by the United Nations about a third of the country's 4.5 million inhabitants in CAR are in urgent need of food and medical assistance. Most of them are fleeing attacks by the former rebel coalition 'Seleka' or armed supporters of former president Francois Bozize, who was ousted in March. "You have a population that needs to flee from major towns and villages and is afraid to go back and seek healthcare," says the MSF country director. These people have been cut off from all supplies; children especially are dying from the effects of diarrhoea and other easily treatable diseases and injuries.

More troops from France

In March, 2013, the Seleka rebels overthrew President Bozize and installed Michel Djotodia as his successor. In the meantime, the Seleka has been dissolved. But, the situation across the country with rebel groups is "uncontrollable," says Thulbaud Lesueur, a correspondent in CAR for the think-tank International Crisis Group.

After months of futile appeals from aid organizations and human rights organizations, international diplomacy appears to be moving along. France's defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian announced his country would be sending an additional 1,000 troops to the Central African Republic. France has already deployed around 400 soldiers to protect the airport, as well as French citizens in Bangui. The soldiers that are to be stationed there will support the African Union peacekeeping force - MISCA.

The UN Security Council, which met on Monday evening (25.11.2013) to discuss the situation in CAR, is set to decide on the extension of the MISCA mandate next week. Currently the force is made up of about 2,500 soldiers and was tasked with supporting the Central African security forces from summer 2013. In order to stabilize the country, that will not suffice, says crisis group expert, Lesueur. "There is no peace no to protect or preserve. You have to start from scratch again."

Warnings of genocide

In light of the escalating violence between Christians and Muslims, the foreign minister of the former French colony warned last week that CAR "was on the verge of genocide." Concern that violence was still continuing, was shared by the US secretary of state. Meanwhile, the secretary of state responsible for Africa spoke of the "preliminary stages of genocide."

Behind these dramatic warnings lie the fear that violence could escalate between the Muslim-dominated Seleka on one side and supporters of the old regime, as well as self-defense militia of the Christian majority on the other.

The rebel movement which emerged from the transition movement has now lost control in parts of the country. "We have a structural problem," says Guy Simplice Kodegue. The spokesperson for the transitional President Djotodia knows the displays of violence within the country were religiously motivated. Warfare between Christians and Muslims has never occurred in CAR before. "And that would never be accepted by the people of the Central African Republic."

Mutual recriminations

Blame for the rampant crime and "banditry" lies, according to the presidential spokesperson, with forces from within the old regime - supporters of the former President Bozize. They tried to sabotage the aims of the new transitional government process.

However, this account contradicts numerous eye witnesses who accuse the Seleka of part-taking in serious crimes against the civilian population. The self-defense groups were merely desperate, "young people with hunting rifles and machetes," trying to defend their villages against marauding rebels, the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga tells DW.

The victims are civilians who have no choice but to flee. Accurate figures for those directly and indirectly affected do not exist. Although MSF has increased its aid projects and is trying to reach remote areas with mobile clinics, supply is far from sufficient, says Groult. The major UN agencies did not previously go into many parts of the country which were affected. This is also a sign to other private organizations. Without massive international intervention, most observers agree, an improvement in the situation is no where in sight. Archbishop Nzapalainga hopes "the appeals and the international community can come to the aid of the people of the Central African Republic."

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