Thursday, December 21, 2006

 

KAGA BANDORO, 19 Dec 2006 (IRIN, the sequel)

KAGA BANDORO, 19 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - Around Dikba Elisi’s oldest child’s neck is a plastic whistle, so that if the family is forced to flee into maize fields and the children get lost, the adults have a better chance of finding them. Elisi, her three young children and sister, are living under two pieces of tin they salvaged, sleeping on a single bed, hidden in swaying fields three kilometres behind their old village. Another attack, she said, was unlikely - there was nothing left to burn or steal since the family’s straw-roofed shack was razed to the ground in mid-November and all the family’s furniture, food and money were stolen. "All you see here is what we saved - the rest was burned or stolen," Elisi said.The family is among 220,000 people estimated by the United Nations in its 2007 funding appeal to have been displaced internally in the Central African Republic (CAR) and into Chad and Cameroon as a result of conflict. About 45,000 refugees are in southern Chad, living in four sites at Amboko, Yaroungou, Gondje and Dosseye run by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.On a trip through the north-central region of CAR last week, in village after village IRIN saw the charred ruins of houses and harvests. On the road north of the government-controlled town of Kaga Bandoro, 300 km north of Bangui, the capital, aid agencies counted 1,700 houses burned on one stretch less than 100 km long, with thousands more believed to have been targeted elsewhere.There is no front-line in this war - just villages in areas held by non-government forces; those held by army loyalists; and the zones in between. The porous boundary between them has shifted steadily south and east since armed raids first started around the northern CAR towns of Paoua, Markounda and Boguila in June 2005.By April this year the rebel movement had a name: l’Armée populaire pour la restauration de la république et la démocratie (APRD), headed by Lt Bedaya N’Djadder, a former gendarme who defected from the government’s service. In October, another front opened up in the remote northeast of the country, with a new movement, the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR), which has said it is protesting against the ‘exclusionist’ policy of the CAR government, claiming it has an ethnic bias. According to diplomats and analysts, the CAR is now split into two distinct geographical zones - the sparsely populated northeast, and the heavily populated north-central area, the focus of current fighting. A third dynamic is in the remote far west of CAR on the border with Cameroon. There, banditry and kidnappings have prompted 30,000 people to flee into Cameroon.Since the beginning of November, the regular army has been burning villages around Kaga Bandoro, say local villagers. "About 2,000 houses were set on fire on the road between Kaga Bandoro and Ouandago," Albert Vambuel, the archbishop of Kaga Bandoro, told IRIN.The government denies the accusations. In an interview on 14 December, Colonel Jean Christophe Bureau, the prefect of the town of Kaga Bandoro, said the rebels were living with villagers who refuse to collaborate with the national army to restore order in the region. "The army is using rockets and mortars to retaliate and these weapons sometimes burnt houses," he said, rejecting allegations that the army deliberately set fire to houses.
Vambuel added that agricultural produce was also destroyed in the fires. "The rebels are in areas well known by the army but the soldiers do not want to go after them," he said, adding that rebels were using villagers as a shield.According to Refugees International, in a statement on 14 December, conditions are dire for displaced people who desperately need shelter, food, healthcare, clothing, blankets, soap, and potable water. The absence or limited availability of clean water and medical care has also raised the risk of diseases such as malaria and typhoid. In Kaga Bandoro, about 600 families had moved from their villages into the town. "We are caring for 3,000 displaced people to whom we are distributing food such as soya, sugar and cooking oil," said Jean-Blaise Nguepoukpoudou, the head of the Catholic humanitarian NGO, CARITAS.CARITAS said it needed more supplies. It had received 18 tonnes of food from the United Nations World Food Programme. Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) is also distributing food, despite the difficulties in gaining access to some areas after rebels destroyed bridges. "Security is the main need," Teresa San Cristobal of MSF. "There is an absolute lack of protection." Refugees International urged government to stop the army, including the presidential guard, from committing human-rights abuses, and to hold perpetrators accountable. "People are subsisting on mostly cassava and wild roots since some of the markets have been destroyed by bandits and agriculture has been interrupted by the insecurity," it noted while calling on international agencies to respond to the crisis. For a country with a life expectancy of 41 years, which is ranked 169 out of 175 countries on the Human Development Index, the situation in the north-central region only makes matters worse. At the launch of the appeal for US$49.5 million for humanitarian projects in CAR in 2007, on 30 November, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated: "Regional dynamics and the success or failure of democratic consolidation and socio-economic recovery make the CAR one of the world’s most fragile yet unknown crises, and potentially a hotspot threatening international peace and security in Central Africa."For Elisi and her children living out in the open fields, exposed and scared, there is no hope of returning home yet. "We are cold, the children are hungry, and we are all getting sick. We cannot go back to the village, but we cannot stay here. I do not know what we will do," she told IRIN.

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