9 January 2014

Central Africa: Regional Bloc to Discuss Central African Republic Crisis

Regional leaders are gathering Thursday in Chad to discuss the situation in the Central African Republic, where fighting since December has left more than 1,000 people dead.

President Michel Djotodia wants to update the Economic Community of Central African States on the security situation in the CAR and discuss transitioning an African intervention force there into a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Lewis Mudge, a researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, wrote an article Tuesday arguing for the U.N. mission, saying it is the best option for the country to re-establish a stable government and protect civilians.

He told VOA there is a "degree of fatigue" with Mr. Djotodia among those in the region as well as France.

"France has recognized that there needs to be a new type of political solution other than the one that is currently existing in the Central African Republic," he said.

CAR information minister Adrien Poussou told VOA that French foreign ministry reports saying Thursday's meeting would include whether Mr. Djotodia remains in power are not true.

Reporter Nick Long, who is in the CAR, told VOA the regional bloc may use the meeting to review Mr. Djotodia's performance.

"The regional heads of state may be quite critical of the way that Michel Djotodia and his colleagues in government have handled affairs since coming to power," Long said. "Many political actors, including senior members of the Seleka coalition which brought Djotodia to power, have in the past few months urged him to discipline so-called 'uncontrolled elements' in the Seleka forces which are accused by human rights observers of committing serious abuses."

Mr. Djotodia took power after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize last March. Since then, the CAR has descended into widespread violence, much of it between the ex-Seleka rebels and Christian militias known as anti-balaka.

Violence in Bangui has hampered aid workers' efforts to help tens of thousands of displaced civilians at camps around the airport.

Long says one relief group started a measles vaccination campaign at the camps, on Wednesday, after violence delayed the group's initial attempt.

"Doctors Without Borders tried to start that vaccinating children at that camp last week but stopped the program because of violence, at the time," Long said. "Their spokesman said there were stray bullets flying through that clinic and several children were killed in the camp, at that time."

Ted Chaiban, emergency programs director for the United Nations Children's Fund, says the unrest is having an especially hard impact on children.

"Children have seen unspeakable violence in the CAR. There are a million people displaced in the Central African Republic, 500,000 of them children," he said.

UNICEF and its partners say they have verified the killings of at least 16 children in Bangui, since early December, including two who were beheaded.

"We've seen torture; we've seen attacks against children," Chaiban said. "They are recruited, we estimate between 3,500 and 6,000 children who are with different armed forces, but also they are exposed to disease, they are out of school, and it's really a very difficult place to be a child right now."

Chaiban says the U.N. agency needs about $64 million to provide humanitarian assistance in CAR this year, but so far, has received only one-third of those funds.

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