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Fear stalks CAR after rebel takeover

19 July 2013, 10:04

Kaga Bandoro - Henri Ngoa, a nurse at a hospital in Kaga Bandoro north of the Central African Republic capital, says that four months after rebels overthrew the president, "the fear is still here".

"Even if they are sick, people are afraid of seeking treatment. They would rather stay in the bush than risk facing the Seleka," he says, referring to the rebel coalition that ousted president Francois Bozize on 24 March.

"What have we got left? Nothing, except those beds without mattresses or mosquito nets."

The hospital staff are left to stare at empty rooms after "everything was pillaged" by Seleka fighters in the chaos following the uprising.

The latest crisis in the chronically unstable former French colony has been the hardest to endure for Kana Bandoro, a market town of 26 000 people, mostly farmers, about 350km from Bangui, according to accounts collected by AFP.


Regina, a 21-year-old woman, recounts how "everything was stolen" from her modest house after the rebels arrived on 25 December following the launch of their offensive.

"Members of my family were killed, others took refuge in the countryside for fear of being killed or raped," says the young mother of two.

"Ever since, we subsist on cassava and vegetables. Now we only get one meal in two."

"The people have suffered greatly since Christmas," says the local bishop, Albert Vanbeul, a Belgian septuagenarian who arrived in Central Africa 20 years ago.

"Although the situation has improved a little in the past two weeks, the main problem is the total absence of any authority. More police, more justice ... a new district administrator arrived in the past few days, but he has no resources," he said.

After a key Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia, proclaimed himself president in Bangui and eventually came to head a transitional government under international pressure, Seleka fighters took power where they could.

In Kaga Bandoro, they have taken control of the police station and several other important buildings, but many of them are very young, and they do not speak the local language, Songo.

The Seleka rebels have come from as far away as frontier territory in the north or even from Chad and Sudan on the other side of the border.

"Until last week, their chief spoke in Arabic, not even in French," deputy mayor Pascal Zoumbeti says.

It is difficult in such circumstances for the new rulers to assert any legitimate authority acknowledged by local people.

'Nothing we could do'

The plight of people in Kaga Bandoro is not uncommon in a deeply poor, landlocked nation that has seen a succession of coups, military mutinies, rebellions and prolonged pay strikes since independence from France in 1960.

The lack of good governance left much of the north in the hands of bandit groups and hindered the exploitation of potential resources including uranium, gold and diamonds.

To regain any sense of security, the residents of Kaga Bandoro increasingly rely on the presence of 50 Congolese troops in a multi-national peacekeeping force (Fomac), provided by regional countries to try to prevent any further descent into chaos.

The Fomac local commander, Captain Olivier Ondougo, said that the security situation had stabilised and that Seleka soldiers have "changed mentality" and abandoned their "rebellious behaviour".

But suspicions remain high and those who own cars prefer to park them overnight on the Fomac base.

Coming back

This applies particularly to those working for relief agencies, who are coming back after leaving the region because of insecurity earlier this year, with the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

But the return of aid workers is delicate, especially for UN agencies such as the UN Children's Fund and the World Food Programme, since their headquarters were totally looted and devastated.

"There was nothing we could do when the Seleka army arrived. They stole computer equipment, vehicles, food and medicine stocks. In the weeks following, the population boarded up their doors," says Sylvain Yakara, a senior UN worker.

Recently Valerie Amos, UN deputy secretary-general in charge of humanitarian issues, said it was vital that "the UN presence returned" to the region, but added that it was also necessary for the new authorities to "re-establish security".

Precarious situation

While the country waits for security to improve, "the situation will remain extremely precarious" with the "risk of a major humanitarian crisis in 2014," says Pascal Monier, the Bangui chief of the European Union humanitarian service, ECHO.

A dozen relief agencies have warned of starvation facing the whole population of 4.6 million.

Early in July, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also warned in a report that Central Africa faces a meltdown in health care services, due to systematic looting of medicines, medical equipment and diagnostic tools. "The people have effectively been abandoned just when they most need help," the document said.

Already the rates of infant mortality and malaria are on the rise this year, according to health authorities.



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