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Central African Republic pins hopes of turnaround on new president

Central African Republic Unrest
Security volunteers use sticks to fend off the crowd trying to enter a food and supplies distribution point, at a makeshift camp housing an estimated 100,000 displaced people, at Mpoko Airport, in Bangui.
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

The Central African Republic has a new president at a time where persistent insecurity has humanitarian organizations worried and the European Union dispatching security forces.

Catherine Samba-Panza, a businesswoman and current mayor of the capital city of Bangui, will try to steer the Central African Republic (CAR) away from fighting and chaos. She narrowly beat out the son of the nation’s former president.

Her inaugural address appealed for peace. In it, the Christian leader called upon both the Muslim Seleka’s and the Christian anti-balaka’s to end the violence.

“I’m launching a resounding appeal to my anti-balaka children who are listening to me: Show your support for my nomination by giving the strong signal of laying down your weapons,” she said. “To my ex-Seleka children who are also listening to me: Lay down your weapons. Stop the suffering of the people.”

Humanitarian and rights groups re-upped their pleas for the fighting to end.

“The new government must act immediately to ensure that everyone in CAR, Christians and Muslims, enjoy basic security,” said Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International.

Reports of human rights violations and suggestions that the country is on the verge of genocide have been reported for more than a month. The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, again described the human rights problem at a special session of the Human Rights Council, yesterday.

She confirmed that estimates show some 1,000 people were killed during fighting on December 5 and 6 in the capital alone. Then there is the evidence of mutilated dead, including the removal of male and female sex organs.

“A more robust response to the crisis is urgently needed in the Central African Republic to protect civilians, prevent further violence, end impunity and promote reconciliation,” concluded Pillay.

Humanitarian Challenges

A convoy evacuating Muslims in the northwest was attacked on Friday. At least twenty-three people were killed when the trucks were attacked 30 km outside of the town of Bouar. Three children were among the dead.

The information comes from Save the Children, an organization that is managing a hospital in Bour to treat people injured by the ongoing violence. The incident added to concerns about the lack of security in the CAR.

“It is a sign of the still fraught and highly dangerous situation in the Central African Republic that children and their families have been attacked and killed while trying to evacuate to safety” said Robert Lankenau, Save the Children’s country director in the Central African Republic.

Save the Children is a part of a growing number of groups working on the ground who say that the situation in the CAR is getting worse. Half of the 4.6 million people that live in the CAR are affected by the crisis with at least 800,000 people fleeing from their homes.

The insecurity is making work harder for humanitarian organizations responding to the crisis. Some 38 trucks carrying food aid from the UN’s World Food Programme are unable to gain entrance to the CAR from neighboring Cameroon. The inability to safely move aid through the country potentially makes matters worse.

“This is going to affect our capacity to get those supplies that are needed so badly down to the capital Bangui and also to other parts of the country,” said WFP spokesperson Frances Kennedy to VOA. “There has been fighting on the road there and we have not yet been able to get those trucks unblocked.”

An airlift of supplies is being considered by WFP, said Regional Director Denise Brown. In the meantime, the agency is trying to ensure priority deliveries are made and is cutting rations to account for potential shortfalls.

Access could worsen in the coming months as the rains will soon arrive. Health is one of many concerns. There is presently only 1 latrine for every 12,000 IDP’s in the CAR. The specter of flooding adds to the possibility of an outbreak of diseases, including polio.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.