Thousands of people displaced from their homes in the Central African Republic (CAR) cannot be reached by aid workers because of insecurity caused by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and other armed militias, a UN official said.
“The main humanitarian challenges relate to civilian protection and humanitarian access,” Jean Sebastien Munie, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the CAR, told IRIN. “There are pockets of conflict.”
At least 20,000 people have fled their homes in the northern and southeastern regions since January, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country to about 180,000, said Munie.
LRA attacks have displaced 12,000 people in the last six weeks in the Mbomou Prefecture. Mbomou is north of the LRA-affected Uele region in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.
“People have emptied villages in the south along the DRC border and are seeking refuge in the main towns,” added Munie.
Despite joint anti-LRA operations by the governments of Sudan, Uganda and DRC, the LRA, which has splintered into many groups, has continued to brutalize and abduct civilians.
Munie said LRA attacks had directly affected about 25,000 people in southeast CAR, including the newly displaced, former IDPs and DRC refugees. “The LRA rebels’ presence is leaving residents with no or [precarious] access to fields,” he added. “This is a humanitarian concern.”
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reiterated the dangers in the east and north in a 20 May report.
“Delivering assistance to the northern area remains restricted due to clashes between armed groups and government forces as well as between pastoralists and local populations; there is also an ongoing risk of road banditry,” it stated.
Recently the CAR government deployed another 250 troops to protect the displaced populations and humanitarian convoys from the LRA.
The LRA has terrorized civilians across the region for more than two decades. On 24 May, US President Barack Obama signed into law the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, which requires the US to develop a comprehensive, multilateral strategy to protect civilians in central Africa from LRA attacks and take steps to permanently stop the rebels’ violence. It also calls on the US to increase humanitarian assistance to LRA-affected countries.
Rights groups say Obama should swiftly implement the legislation.
"If left unchecked, the LRA leadership will continue to kill and abduct throughout central Africa, threatening stability in four countries and potentially undermining the referendum in Southern Sudan. The LRA is a clear threat to international peace and security," said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project. "The US now is tasked with leading a global effort to end this threat once and for all."
While the LRA threat has significantly diminished in northern Uganda, there are an estimated 350,000 IDPs in LRA-affected areas of the DRC, and thousands more in the CAR and Southern Sudan, noted a 25 May statement by the US Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, Franklin Moore.
Photo: Peter Sampson/Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
|Banditry attacks and kidnappings in the northern CAR limit humanitarian access (file photo)|
The violence in CAR has also led to delays in elections. On 29 April, CAR President Francois Bozizé postponed national elections scheduled for 16 May to an as yet unannounced date. “This delay is mainly due to the [rebel activities] and the lack of [an] accurate electoral list… three weeks from the voting date,” said a Humanitarian and Development Partnership Team Bulletin for 26 April-3 May.
CAR’s parliament voted to extend Bozizé’s term, due to expire on 11 June until elections are held.
According to OCHA’s Munie, humanitarian access in the far northeast Birao area remains very poor. OCHA only recently accessed Birao, in the company of a DDR mission under Economic Community of Central African States forces’ escort, six months after its last mission. The area had been cut off by bandits and armed groups, he said. Two expatriates were kidnapped in November 2009 and released in March.
Birao is one of the areas where the UN Mission in CAR and Chad (MINURCAT) has been authorized to take all necessary measures to improve security.
However, the UN Security Council on 25 May voted to withdraw the mission by 31 December. Earlier, two technical renewals (resolution 1913 of 12 March renewing the mandate for two months, and resolution 1922 of 12 May for two weeks) had been made.
MINURCAT’s military personnel will be reduced to 2,200 - 1,900 in Chad and 300 in CAR - with the initial withdrawal expected to be implemented by 15 July. As of 28 February, MINURCAT had 3,814 uniformed personnel including 3,351 troops, 24 military observers and 259 police officers.
Chad will be responsible for refugee and IDP security in the east, with monthly assessments of the civilian protection situation there. MINURCAT was established in 2007 in response to tensions around thousands of Darfur and CAR refugees and Chadian IDPs and cross-border attacks.