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Looting blocks Central African Republic aid effort

02 October 2015, 06:58Joseph D'Urso and Tom Esslemont, Reuters

London - Aid agencies in the Central African Republic were struggling on Thursday to treat the wounded and distribute aid after days of renewed fighting in the capital Bangui which UN agencies said had killed at least 40 people and injured more than 100.

Armed gangs have ransacked dozens of compounds belonging to international organisations since violence flared on Saturday, and machete-wielding militia are blocking roads, humanitarian workers said.

"Keeping humanitarian workers from doing their job in a country whose state lacks authority and which relies so heavily on aid is a recipe for disaster," said Rodolphe Moinaux, country director for the International Rescue Committee.

Also Read: Barricades rise after CAR clashes, but expert warns of civil war

More than 42 000 people have been displaced by the latest violence, the worst the capital has seen this year, many of them in urgent need of shelter and basic healthcare, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.

The violence broke out despite the presence of French and United Nations peacekeepers in the capital.

Gang armed with machetes

Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who returned home early from the UN General Assembly because of the flare-up, was due to join by video-link a high-level UN meeting in New York on the future of the Central African Republic.

The offices of British-based international charity War Child, Catholic agency Caritas and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) were among those looted.

"A group of men broke into our compound at around 02:00 on Monday morning, armed with machetes. They demanded the keys," said Nick Hine, a British financial adviser with War Child who had arrived in the country on Saturday.

"It turned out they'd taken everything - two motorbikes, two 4x4 vehicles, even the kitchen cutlery," Hine told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from the UN office where he has been housed since the break-in.

The IOM offices were completely looted and four vehicles stolen, the organisation said in a statement.

No IOM staff were harmed but two female employees, one German and one American, were evacuated by US marines from their private residence because rioters were nearby.

Reprisal attacks

Two other national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were looted on Wednesday, according to Gemma Cortes, UN OCHA's spokesperson in Bangui.

More than 100 humanitarian staff have been sheltered at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission, Minusca, and a further 82 have taken refuge in a hotel.

"People are shocked, under threat. They are desperate because our humanitarian NGOs and UN agencies cannot access them because of the security situation in the city," said Aurélien Agbénonci, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Bangui.

"If the attacks continue, humanitarians will be unable to reach those who need us the most."

The violence began on Saturday when the body of a murdered Muslim man was found, triggering reprisal attacks on a largely Christian neighbourhood, with armed gangs taking to the streets.

Also Read: At least 500 prisoners escape Central African Republic jail

The mainly Muslim Seleka group ousted the former president of the mostly Christian country, Francois Bozize, in 2013, but the rebels stepped aside the following year under pressure from the United Nations and former colonial ruler France.

The withdrawal of the Seleka cleared the way for an interim government led by Samba-Panza and backed by the United Nations.

Reprisals and counter-attacks have continued, though before this month the capital had been relatively peaceful this year.

New elections are scheduled for October 18, but the latest intercommunal violence raises doubts over the plans.

- Reuters


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