Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Central African Republic: Unicef - C.A.R. a Fragile Country

UNICEF's Representative to the Central African Republic said children have fallen victim to malnutrition and recruitment as child soldiers. He warned the conflict has growing regional implications.

Souleyman Diabaté was in New York this week briefing U.N. officials about the ongoing crisis. He said all of the country's health and social services have collapsed.

"The situation in Central African Republic is not good at all. It is a fragile country, and the security situation is volatile and unpredictable. So working in this environment is kind of complicated," he said.

A complicated situation grew even worse last December when Christian militias formed to combat attacks by mostly Muslim Seleka rebels. The inter-communal violence has left many civilians dead or maimed. Much of the country's Muslim population has been displaced from the capital Bangui.

About 6,000 African and French peacekeepers are trying to maintain a semblance of order in a country too big for their numbers. The U.N. has authorized a mission to the country - MINUSCA -- consisting of 10,000 military and 1,800 police personnel. But it'll be months before they arrive.

"We all know that the peacekeeping mission will be deployed in mid-September. But we all know that the nation won't be fully operational In September. So between now and September there is a kind of vacuum that needs to be addressed," he said.

Diabaté said in the meantime the current troops on the ground need to be better organized and better equipped. He said unless the world pays attention to CAR, neighboring countries

-- such as Chad, Cameroon, DRC and South Sudan -- could face long-term negative effects, including refugees and spillover fighting.

"We hear more about Syria. We hear more about [the] Philippines or Ukraine. But CAR is not getting enough resources to address the issue of the children in Central African Republic."

Schools in the country have been closed for more than a year.

"Children are not going to school. So they are being recruited by the rebels, by the militia groups. Children are being recruited by force or sometimes they are joining because for them it is the only way to find food. It is the only way to find a way to take care of themselves," he said.

The U.N. agency has managed to get some of the child soldiers released. It's set of goal of freeing 1,500 child soldiers this year.

Last year, UNICEF vaccinated 400,000 children in CAR against measles, yellow fever and polio. The target is to immunize more than 700,000 children against measles in 2014.

Diabaté said, "We have also the case of malnourished children. We have a lot of malnourished children due to the crisis. Because when the crisis happened families were living in the bush. In the pediatric hospital of Bangui - the sole pediatric hospital we have for the entire country - the number of malnourished children has tripled."

Diabaté said UNICEF has increased the number of personnel in the country from 70 to 200. They have access, he said, to most of the country, except the far north.

"Central African Republic is a donor orphan country. We have launched the humanitarian action for children for $81-million. But we have mobilized only 20-percent. So, there is a gap, which needs to be filled up."

Diabaté said in briefing U.N. officials about the crisis he is echoing the voices of the children of CAR.

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