Voice of America (Washington, DC)

18 December 2013

Central African Republic: UN Sends More Emergency Teams to CAR

Photo: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch
An injured woman is rushed to the hospital.

The U.N. refugee agency is sending additional emergency teams to Central African Republic. Since a coup about a year ago, violence and insecurity have displaced more than 710-thousand people within the country. Over 75-thousand others have fled to neighboring countries. The U.N. has declared the situation in CAR as a Level Three crisis, meaning it is of the utmost priority.

UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba describes conditions in the capital Bangui.

"Within just the past two weeks, 210,000 people have been displaced inside Bangui alone. This is a lot of people. And we expect more to continue to be displaced for as long as armed men are going house to house looting, breaking in, killing based on religion."

In November of 2012, Seleka rebels -- a coalition of armed groups - swept President Bozize from power. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia became president in August. While some of the mostly Muslim rebels were incorporated into the national army, many were not. The ex-rebels took to violence against Christian civilians. In response, Christians formed armed groups known as the anti-Balaka. The president has not been able to control his former militia members.

"People are careful. They don't want to step outside of the house too much. There's a curfew also from 6pm to 6am. People cannot necessarily find food,' said Lejeune Kaba.

The UNHCR reports that many women and children from the capital have crossed the Oubangui River to seek safety in the DRC town of Zongo.

"People are fleeing to DRC when they can because the border is closed on the CAR side. Congo has left its border opened for anyone seeking asylum. And that's why we're seeing some people taking the risk of even being shot at to cross because they feel the situation is so desperate at home in Bangui," she said.

About 400 kilometers from Bangui - in Bossangoa and areas further north - much violence also is reported. Both sides are blamed for looting and burning of shops and houses.

"Central African forces there had to rescue three people just over the weekend and took them to the hospital. And this is bad because these people have been living alongside one another forever. And today they've become enemies and fear each other. We're certainly hoping that the French troops, who are there, and the African forces will help us secure the IDP sites - the sites for the displaced - as well as troubled neighborhoods to reduce the level of violence that we're seeing now," said Lejeune Kaba.

Earlier this month, France sent about 1600 troops to CAR to try to disarm the rebels.

The UNHCR said the biggest needs among displaced civilians are food, medicine and shelter. Many are sleeping out in the open during the rainy season.

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