UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
CAR: Rebel activity fuels insecurity in the northeast
KAGA-BANDORO, 8 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - People in the town of Kaga-Bandoro in northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) continue to live in fear as the region remains volatile.
They claim they can no longer enter the town because soldiers mistake them for rebels.
"They killed two civilians at the market … on the grounds that they were rebels," Col Jean-Christophe Bureau, the town's prefect, told IRIN on 17 January.
Bureau said civilians were helping the rebels. "The rebels are living with civilians in villages but villagers cannot reveal their presence to security forces," he said.
The insecurity is a result of an army crackdown in the area that began in October last year and is aimed at routing rebels loyal to the Armée populaire pour la restauration de la république et de la démocratie (APRD). The APRD has since spread its activities to Ouandago, 48km northwest of Kaga-Bandoro, and Gribingui, of which Kaga-Bandoro is the provincial capital.
Local aid workers say the attacks amount to human rights abuses.
"It is not the first time such killings took place in the town," a clergyman, who requested anonymity, told IRIN. He said a student had also recently been killed by a soldier who had escaped prosecution.
Even those needing to go to Kaga-Bandoro say they are too afraid to enter the town. Dimanche Dague, 21, from Goumourou, 30km northwest of Kaga-Bandoro, said: "I cannot go to Kaga-Bandoro for fear of being arrested by the army there."
Meanwhile, Mandogo Regis, 21, from Patcho, 25km northeast of Kaga-Bandoro, told IRIN that troops had spies at the entrance to the town to warn the military of people trying to enter.
Food stocks running low
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), villagers around the town do not have access to basic goods such as salt, sugar, medical care and food. The price of food and other goods has risen five-fold.
"There is no meat in the village and we are relying on cassava leaves and other vegetables to survive," said Georges Yandiba from Zando, 15km northwest of Kaga-Bandoro.
He said the villagers' goats and other livestock had either been driven away by soldiers or eaten by rebels, and anyone found with meat was accused of supplying the rebels.
The IRC reported that 54 villages had been burnt down between October and January, displacing at least 20,000 people who have sought refuge in the bush. These people are exposed to malnutrition and water-borne diseases, and are dying of preventable and treatable diseases due to the lack of medical supplies.
One clergyman in Kaga-Bandoro told IRIN that villagers were forced to choose between two evils in the battle for survival.
"Despite harassment, civilians in villages prefer to stay with rebels rather than with regular troops," he said, adding that although the rebels were taking food from villagers, it was better than being shot at by the army.
Rebels in the northeast
The Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR) rebels are active in the northeast of the country. Last November, they captured five towns and controlled them for about a month before the regular army, backed by French troops, regained control. These towns are Birao, Sam-Ouandja, Ouanda-Djalle, Ouadda and Ndele. Like APRD rebels in the northwest, UFDR fighters are pushing for talks with the government over power-sharing in the CAR. They captured the towns to pressure the government to agree to their request for
In one of the bloodiest attacks on the region, 15 school-children were allegedly killed in November last year in an air strike by French troops on Gordil, in Vakaga Prefecture. The French troops had been asked by the government to quell a rebellion in the area. It is believed they mistook the students for UFDR rebels.
Two students are still missing; another three survived the air strike with injuries.
In a separate incident in the region, at least 20 villagers in Gordil, who fled into the bush to avoid French air strikes, have disappeared.
"The people … have seriously suffered the consequences of the rebellion," said Ousmane Ramadane, the interim mayor of Gordil.
He added that the army had also killed a former local member of parliament. Ramadane said the army had accused the former MP, Alias Zakaria, of providing financial support to UFDR rebels. However, the army has not officially commented on why the MP was killed.
"He was gunned down in the village in front of his relatives by the national troops," Ramadane said, adding that a further 11 people had been gunned down in Serekobo, in Vakaga Prefecture.
He went on to describe how military operations have disrupted education in the region as school-children hide in the bush with their families. As a result, 17 primary schools and one secondary school in Ouandja commune have closed. Crop production has also been halted.
"Since June last year, when we ran into the bush to escape violence by the national troops, we have abandoned our farms," Ramadane said. "We are going to run out of food and face starvation this year."
The lack of hospitals and drugs is another concern. "There is an acute problem as far as access to medical care for people in this region are concerned," Norbert Elounga, a doctor with the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
"The medical coverage is really poor, there are no medicines in hospitals and patients have to pay a lot of money to be treated," he added. He said children in the area had not received vaccines for the past couple of years.
The rebellion has also fuelled ethnic tensions, and fighting has begun between the Goula and Youlou ethnic groups. The Goula are blamed for the violence in the region.
"The national army arrived in Ouandja with some civilians of the Youlou ethnic group who located and burned some of the houses belonging to the Goulas," said local resident Abdoul Fadjir.
Diplomats have observed that the situation in CAR is similar to that in Sudan's Darfur region.
Homes in are systematically burnt down with people living in the open, without shelter, food, drinking water and basic health services.
The rebels and the army are also reported to use rape as a weapon. Pierre Raveneau, a local doctor, said rebels had raped eight women, and that a pregnant woman had been raped by four gangs.
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