A joint military offensive between the armed forces of the Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad to oust Chad’s Front Populaire pour le Redressement (FPR) rebel movement from its stronghold in parts of north-central CAR is hampering operations to help the displaced, say humanitarian officials.
The military operation, which was launched on 23 January, is aimed at capturing FPR rebel leader “General” Abdel Kader, alias Baba Laddé, and is concentrated in the north-central CAR areas of Ouandago and Gondava, 80km and 45km from the main town of Kaga-Bandoro, respectively.
But following a 24 January joint attack on FPR positions, an estimated 16,000 people were displaced, according to a bulletin by CAR's Humanitarian and Development Partnership Team (HDPT).
"This number is likely to change since some regions still remain inaccessible," it added.
The area most affected is Kabo, where internally displaced persons (IDPs) need water and latrines, states the bulletin, noting that IDPs had also been registered in the areas of Nana Outa and Farazala and between Kabo and Kaga-Bandoro.
On 28 January, Firmin Feindiro, the CAR government spokesman, said the military operations were targeting the FPR's operational centre and had led to rebel casualties after a brief resistance. The exact toll, however, remained unknown, with Laddé still free; reports suggest he could have fled to South Sudan.
Kaga-Bandoro's bishop, Albert Vanbuel, was quoted in the media in early February as saying the counter-rebel operations had led to a generalized fear among the population as Chadian troops combed the area for FPR rebels. "They stop the so-called rebels, torture and kill them without knowing if they are rebels or not. Many innocent [people] have died this way."
Bishop Vanbuel further added that FPR and civilian deaths had been recorded, with many corpses unburied.
Several villages in the northern part of CAR, on the road between Ouandago and Gondava, have been partially or completely destroyed since the end of January, according to a 23 February statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
"Thousands of people have had to flee," said Katharina Ritz, head of the ICRC delegation in Bangui. "They've lost everything: their houses, their crops, all their belongings."
Insecurity continues to pose a threat to the population and humanitarian organizations, despite the military operation, according to Jean Sebastien Munie, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the CAR. "If the military operation was on the whole a success, it did not completely eradicate insecurity in the region."
The FPR rebels, who arrived in CAR from Chad in 2008, have continued to carry out sporadic attacks in parts of northern CAR as well as to recruit, mainly Fulani community members, and acquire weapons. On 2 February, an ethnic Fulani herder, suspected of belonging to the FPR, was killed by a presidential guard in the capital Bangui. Another Fulani herder was seriously wounded and a third reported missing.
In early February, the FPR announced that several groups, including the Parti pour la Justice et le Développement (PJD), the Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP), the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR) and the Armée populaire pour la restauration de la démocratie (APRD), whose leader Jean Jacques Démafouth is under arrest, were to create an alliance to depose CAR President François Bozizé. But the APRD, a former national rebel group, denied involvement in the alliance.
The APRD and the UFDR signed peace accords with the CAR government in 2008, with members taking part in the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration process, while the CPJP signed a ceasefire agreement in 2011.