Trapped by the events of 6 June

كريس سيمبسون
صحفي مستقل مقره في داكار، ومساهم منتظم في إيرين

As head of the village, Omar Fotor feels responsible for more than 40 families now sheltering in an improvised camp inside Birao, in the far north. "We are blocked in here," Fotor told IRIN. "It's not safe to go 2km outside Birao. I am extremely unhappy here. There is not enough to eat. The children are traumatized. This is not where they would normally sleep. Their school has been destroyed."

The small-scale farming and fishing that had kept his people together was no longer possible. "There is nothing working," he emphasized.

Toumo, his village 5km outside Birao, and neighbouring villages were burned by armed raiders in what Fotor describes as "the events of 6 June". Reports from the northeast at the time pointed to an early morning attack by armed members of the Kara community, with the raiders targeting both a military camp in Birao and nearby villages.

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), which has a military contingent in Birao, blamed the violence on renewed tensions between the Goula and Kara communities. The former rebel Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), which relied heavily on Goula support in the past, accused Kara fighters of wanting to destabilize the northeast, sabotaging an already fragile peace process. The UFDR joined troops from the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) in a clean-up operation, regaining control of Birao and its surroundings. But hundreds of villagers were displaced by the fighting, either fleeing to Birao or into the bush. Most have not returned. Further incidents were reported on 21 June, with at least three people killed.
 

Displaced people in Birao, a town in northeastern Central African Republic. The region has been hit by clashes between the Goula and Kara communities

Photo: Chris Simpson/IRIN
Displaced people in Birao, a town in the northeast. The region has been hit by clashes between the Goula and Kara communities

Food needs

The provincial governor in Birao, Colonel Dieudonne Sereggasa, who took up his post in July, acknowledged a long history of troubled relations between the Kara and Goula. "This war did not start today. It goes way back in time, from generation to generation. Light a match and it starts up again." But Sereggasa said tensions had eased in Birao after several meetings and that people were now circulating freely. He pointed to an increase in commercial activity. "Go to the shops now or the market and you will find a lot more produce," Sereggasa told IRIN. "There is a return to normality." 

But Sereggasa and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) both emphasized the need for an immediate injection of extra food aid, with local authorities adamant that the supplies provided are inadequate. WFP Country Representative Sitta Kai-Kai said WFP would need US$500,000 to fly in 250MT of food aid to Birao in September. Trucking operations, which are cumbersome and costly, are rendered impossible during the rainy season, which runs until November.

WFP prepositioned food for six months for 11,000 beneficiaries in the Birao region in April. But after the June fighting, 13,000 needed aid. "We did not plan for that," Kai-Kai told IRIN. "We are going to be in Birao for some time, not just today or tomorrow. People have not grown food this year and that means no food next year." Kai-Kai said the population's capacity to feed itself depended on guarantees of peace and security.

Security fears

Birao was practically emptied and destroyed by fighting in November 2006 and March 2007, with UFDR battling for control against government troops backed by the French military. The peace accord signed by the UFDR and the government in April 2007 led to a period of relative stability.

But the June attacks have triggered fears of a worsening security situation in Birao and other parts of the northeastern prefecture of Vakaga, with serious humanitarian consequences.

"For the moment the rainy season is protecting Birao," Jerome Voisin of Triangle told IRIN, hinting that armed groups nominally representing the Kara community had already sent warning of attacks closer to the main town. Triangle, which distributed oil, salt and corn for WFP, has abandoned development work in the Birao region, focusing exclusively on emergency needs. Voisin said Triangle would consult with MINURCAT and other partners in trying to stay active and safe in Vakaga.

LRA attacks

Kai-Kai said agencies such as WFP were constantly having to factor in new emergencies and security problems in making their projections, noting reports of new attacks by the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) around Obo in the southeastern prefecture of Haut-Mbomou.

Alexis Mbolinani of the United Youth for the Protection of the Environment and Community (JUPEDEC), which is active in the southeast, said the LRA attacks had had a devastating impact. "When the LRA come, they take everything," Mbolinani told IRIN. "They create fear among the population. They abduct people, they rape our women. There is nobody living 3km outside Obo. They have raided all the food stocks. There is a real food security problem there."

CAR's Minister of Planning, Economy and International Cooperation, Sylvain Maliko, said developments in the southeast highlighted the country's vulnerability to spillover effects from its volatile neighbours. "We don't have the capacity to address these conflicts," Maliko told IRIN, while emphasising that the CAR's internal security situation had improved significantly.

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