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Civilians in Central African Republic Organizing Self-Defense Forces

Scott Stearns | Dakar 16 June 2010

With fighting in the Central African Republic displacing thousands of civilians, some people are setting up self-defense forces to protect their families.

Civilians fleeing fighting in surrounding areas have doubled the population of the town of Obo, near the border with Congo and Sudan - and more than 1,000 kilometers from the capital Bangui.

With Central African Republic rebels and the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army attacking, abducting and raping civilians in neighboring villages, the people of Obo are organized to defend themselves.

Wamba Aniragbe, who heads Obo's self-defense committee, says they create these civil defense groups out of concern for all the suffering, the numbers of women and children who are being killed.

Sorovo Sarvatoriopal and his seven children fled their village one year ago. Returning home, he finds a lifetime of possessions scattered across the compound.

Before the rebels, he says, he farmed and hunted and raised enough money to buy clothes for his children. Now it is difficult. He can not go hunting. He has no access to his fields, so there are no crops to sell.

He is living in a makeshift shelter with his children.

He says he is suffering because he is far from his home. He collects firewood to earn a little money to support his children, and some neighbors have given them corn.

Because the roads farmers used to bring food to market in Obo are now unsafe, former mayor Pierre-Ambroise Takouall says trade in the town has virtually stopped, and food is scarce.

He says there is a total shortage of food and goods. The farmer can not access his fields. The hunter can not go into the bush to get fresh meat. And the shopkeepers can not move around to bring back essential goods. We are stuck.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been distributing food to the people of Obo since October. Convoys of trucks bring basic food staples and seeds for crops, but Red Cross officials say with all the security problems, most farmers are too afraid to tend their fields.

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