CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Clash-displaced need urgent help, says UN
People displaced by past clashes in Birao, northeastern Central African Republic
NAIROBI, 7 December 2010 (IRIN) - Thousands of people who fled a 24 November rebel attack in the northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) town of Birao, Vakaga Province, urgently need humanitarian assistance, says a UN official.
"The whole population, about 8,000, stayed a week in the bush, with no access to drinkable water, no protection from mosquitoes..." said Jean-Sébastien Munie, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the CAR.
"Food security is also likely to be a major concern in the coming days due to the looting of some food-stock at the household level and insecurity around Birao, which may affect the population's access to fields."
The number of casualties following the clashes remains unknown, says OCHA.
CAR and Chadian armies are urging the displaced population to return to Birao following recent (25-30 November) air and ground strikes, which routed the Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP) rebels from the town. The rebels, however, maintain they are still in the vicinity.
According to a humanitarian source, the CPJP rebels awaited the complete withdrawal of troops from the UN Mission in CAR and Chad (MINURCAT) to launch the attack against Birao. MINURCAT troops left northeast CAR in mid-November.
A 26 November statement
, attributable to the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, condemned the attack, which occurred “less than two weeks after the handing over of the [MINURCAT] camps to the national authorities”.
Vulnerabilities in northeastern CAR remain extremely high, with poor or no access to healthcare, water and sanitation facilities. The hospital in Birao, for example, has just one doctor and its pharmacy is empty, according to OCHA.
The CPJP, which remains active in the northeast, was formed in late 2008 and its political wing is led by Charles Massi, who served as a minister under deposed president Ange-Félix Patassé. Patassé was forced out of office in 2003 by the incumbent, President Francois Bozizé. Massi’s whereabouts remain unknown since December 2009.
Humanitarian access to Birao remains difficult due to insecurity and logistical challenges. The situation is similar in Sam Ouandja, in neighbouring Haute Kotto; where the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is relocating some 3,500 Sudanese refugees to Bambari, in south-central CAR, which has better road access and security.
According to OCHA, the population of N’dele, in neighbouring Bamingui-Bangoran province, has also fled, fearing rebel attacks. Attacks there often prompt civilians to flee to neighbouring Chad. NGOs in N’dele are currently downsizing to essential staff, noted OCHA.
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Northeastern CAR is characterized by limited government presence, armed bandits and rebels; the withdrawal of MINURCAT, whose mission ends on 31 December, has further widened the security gap.
MINURCAT’s departure followed a UN Security Council’s vote in May to end the mission after the Chadian government said it would assume full responsibility for protecting civilians on its territory. MINURCAT, established in 2007, had been mandated to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian assistance and protect UN personnel in eastern Chad and northeastern CAR.
In an October briefing to the Security Council, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of MINURCAT, Youssef Mahmoud, expressed concern that with MINURCAT’s imminent withdrawal, the security situation in the north-east of the country remained volatile while the CAR government’s capacity to maintain security in the area was limited.
To avoid a security vacuum after MINURCAT’s departure, all must be done to help CAR’s government to deploy additional troops to Birao, Mahmoud told the Council.
However, in its latest report
, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre states: “International peacekeeping forces have had little impact in areas affected by internal displacement. They were deployed in small numbers and without a mandate to engage criminal gangs. Nevertheless the government of CAR fears that the security situation in the north-east of the country will get worse with the scheduled withdrawal of UN peacekeeping troops, due to be completed by the end of the year. The latest wave of attacks highlights the fragility of the peace process and raises serious concerns about stability in the run-up to the presidential election scheduled for 23 January 2011.”
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