Thursday, December 21, 2006

 

KAGA BANDORO, 19 Dec 2006 (IRIN)

KAGA BANDORO, 19 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - The burning and looting of villages across north-central Central African Republic (CAR) has scattered thousands of civilians from their homes while the rebels and the army blame each other for aggravating the situation.

"The villagers are being held hostage by the rebels," Col Jean Christophe Bureau, prefect of Kaga Bandoro, 300 km north of the capital, Bangui, said. "Their animals and food are being stolen. All the villages were burned by the rebels."

Bureau, who is officially in charge of the region, insisted that government troops had often come under fire when passing through villages in the area. "A highly intense military operation is needed to overcome rebellion in the region", including air strikes, he said.

A well-placed non-governmental official who did not want to be identified told IRIN in Kaga Bandoro: "Both the army and the rebels say their goal is to help. But if the villagers tell the army where the rebels are, they will later be attacked by them; if the army is attacked they will blame the nearest village for supporting the rebel groups."

Local civilians say they are being targeted because the government accuses them of harbouring fighters of l’Armée populaire pour la restauration de la république et la démocratie (APRD), a group headed by renegade Lt Bedaya N’Djadder. Over the past two years, the group has attacked and seized control of several towns in the CAR.

Armed with a very old gun, Mizohongo Natouhonjo said a year ago he was an economics student at Bangui University. Pulling out his university enrolment card as proof, Natouhonjo said he had joined the rebels because "our villages were being burned. I could not stay there and do nothing, so I decided to come here and die with them."

Another man, carrying a solar-charged satellite phone and escorted by men with machetes and grenades, identified himself as a senior APRD commander in the Kaga Bandoro region. He said the movement was formed as a response to the CAR army’s attacks on villages, and had no support from outside the country, nor links to the CAR’s former president, Ange-Félix Patassé.

The CAR government has accused Patassé, who was deposed by François Bozize in 2003 with the backing of neighbouring Chad, of supporting the rebels. The government has also linked the rebellion to Sudan, an accusation denied by the Sudanese government.

"We move around by foot, how could we have contact with anyone outside?" asked the APRD commander. "The time of Patassé is over. Our goal is that the government finds a solution to stop the destruction of villages."

Villages in the crossfire

While the accusations and counter-accusations fly, civilians suffer. Around Kaga Bandoro, the two health centres, which had served more than 13,000 people, have been looted and burned. Schools appear to have been spared the burning, but none was open.

According to local villagers, the army strategy to destroy villages to dislodge rebels is continuing. "On 3 December, our village was burnt down by the army who accused people living here of collaborating with the rebels," said Jonas Andjeligaza, the deputy village chief in Zoumbeti, 50 km south of Kaga Bandoro.

Two old men who were in their houses when the army arrived in the village were burnt to death, he claimed.

Along the road linking Kaga Bandoro and Kabo to the northwest, about 30 villages had reportedly been burnt down in fighting between the army and the APRD. "The national army arrived here and set houses on fire after firing in the air to scare villagers who ran into the bush," said Jerome Yamissi, 50. "The army used mortars and rockets and some farms in the village were destroyed," he added, insisting he had never seen a single rebel fighter in his village.

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