Humanitarian needs "overwhelming"

Ethnic clashes in northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) and the activities of Ugandan rebels in the southeast have left thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) without food, protection or shelter, a UN official said.

"[There has been a] resurgence in ethnic violence in the northeastern Vakaga region, especially between [the] Goulah and Karah ethnic groups, leading to new displacement, as well as refugees fleeing to Chad," Nick Imboden, information management officer in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in CAR, said.

"The situation has been deteriorating for several months, with frequent clashes, casualties and burning of homes," he added.

About 18,000 people have fled to Chad since the beginning of the year. Some fled clashes between government forces and rebels while others were escaping inter-ethnic skirmishes.

Recently, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Catherine Bragg described the humanitarian situation in CAR as "unique". The country was the second poorest on Earth after Sierra Leone.

Government institutions were "near absent" outside Bangui, the capital, the security forces very weak, insecurity rampant and rebel groups seemed more content with marginalization than any specific agenda, said Bragg, who is also Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, addressing reporters in New York.

In June, more than 600 homes were burned and 3,700 people displaced in ethnic violence in Birao (also in Vakaga), about 1,200km east of Bangui.

Photo: M. Baiwong/UNHCR
UNHCR staff interviewing refugees from Central African Republic in southeastern Chad. Families fled fighting between the CAR army and rebels. February 2009

Sitta Kai-Kai, UN World Food Programme (WFP) representative in CAR, said the number of displaced in Birao had more than tripled since recent attacks. WFP distributed the last of its prepositioned food in August to 14,000 people, including IDPs and the local population.

"The rainy season makes road access to Birao all but impossible," she added. "WFP is urgently seeking US$500,000 to conduct an airlift operation to reach these beneficiaries in September to replenish dwindling stocks that cannot be brought in by road."

LRA attacks

In the southeast, more than 1,000 people from surrounding areas have temporarily relocated to Obo town in the far east of CAR, following attacks by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on Goubéré (5km northwest of Obo) and Ligoua (20km southeast of Obo), according to local authorities.

Another 100 villagers from Ligoua were reported to be staying with host families in Obo.

"LRA attacks are ongoing, every week there are reports of new incidents. These are not major, but [are] frequent," Imboden said.

An estimated 2,000 IDPs and DRC refugees are in the Obo area, but more are likely to arrive. "The problem [in Obo] is that there is a limited humanitarian presence so we have not yet been able to conduct an adequate assessment," he said.

The UN was planning a two-week inter-agency mission to distribute aid and evaluate the situation, he said. At the moment, COOPI and ACTED are the only international NGOs present.

The LRA rebels fled their bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo for CAR and Southern Sudan after military operations against them.

Photo: Anthony Morland/IRIN
abandoned burnt-out village near the northwest town of Paoua: Past
fighting resulted in large-scale population displacement particularly
around Paoua

IDPs in northwest

Fighting in 2007, particularly around Paoua, resulted in large-scale population displacement. More than 100,000 refugees fled to Chad and Cameroon and a further 100,000 people were displaced into the bush.

Peace is holding in this area and there have been no major attacks recently. People are still afraid of returning home, however, despite a 2008 peace deal between rebels controlling the area and the government and the formation of an inclusive government in January.

Generally, the situation in CAR has been aggravated by an economic downturn in the southwestern mining areas. CAR, according to the UN Development Programme, has been hit quicker and harder by the global economic crisis than most other African states.

"With the northern parts of CAR locked down in rebellion, possible social turmoil in the south would put a definite end to the country's fragile progress since the democratic elections in 2005," the Humanitarian and Development Partneship Team in CAR said on 12 August.

Imboden said possible elections in 2010 could increase tension. "[Last year] was an optimistic year but 2009 has proved us wrong, with tensions between rebel fighters and the population in the northwest, and increasing tension between ethnic groups in the north-east as well the formation of a new rebel group."

The new group, CPJP [Convention des Patriots pour la Justice et la Paix] emerged in early 2009 and set up base on the road between Ndele and Ngarba [along the Chadian border] in the northeast.

Early this year, the group fought government forces, displacing civilians and forcing some to flee across the border to Daha in southern Chad. A stalemate has since occurred, but initial attempts at mediation by the government are yet to be accepted by the CPJP.


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