UN alarmed at worsening humanitarian situation in CAR

New York, Dec 7 : Several United Nations agencies Friday voiced alarm at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), where violent clashes in recent days have reportedly led to the death of around 100 people and forcing many others to flee their homes.

"It is still too early to give a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian impact, but United Nations agencies present in the country have reported that men, women and children have fled the violence," Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said in a statement. "I am gravely concerned that this rapid deterioration of the situation could lead to further displacement.

The CAR witnessed a resumption of violence last December when the Seleka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks, culminating in March when President Francois Bozize was forced to flee.

A transitional government, headed by Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, has been entrusted with restoring law and order and paving the way for democratic elections. However, armed clashes in the north-east have increased since August, and the country is facing a dire humanitarian situation.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it is alarmed by the deteriorating security conditions in CAR and the safety of civilians caught in fighting between ex-Seleka rebels and self-defence forces in the capital, Bangui, and in the town of Bossangoa, further northwest.

According to UN and media reports, at least 140 civilians were killed during fresh attacks Thursday in Bangui. "This is the first major fighting in the capital since March," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.

"Our staff in Bangui say the situation is very tense this morning," he said, noting that gunfire continues to be heard in some areas, preventing residents from leaving their homes. "We are hearing worrying reports of sectarian and revenge attacks between neighbours throughout Bangui. A local UNHCR worker was attacked in his home Thursday night and the assailants took away and killed his 24-year-old nephew."

Edwards added that a growing number of people are fleeing and seeking shelter in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thursday, close to 700 people had crossed over and more were arriving Friday.

Meanwhile, heavy shelling Thursday in Bossangoa caused panic among the residents. Although the shelling has stopped, UNHCR staff in the town say the situation remains tense in the area. An unknown number of people have been displaced.

According to UNHCR, nearly 400,000 people have been displaced since violence resumed last December, while another 69,800 have been forced into exile in neighbouring countries.

Thursday, the Security Council, seriously concerned that the new dynamic of unrest and retaliation in CAR could divide the country along religious and ethnic lines and potentially "spiral into an uncontrollable situation," authorized an African-led and French-backed peacekeeping force to quell the spiralling violence.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Friday welcomed the Council's authorization of the deployment of a peacekeeping force, as well as its request for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate reports of human rights abuses by all parties since 1 January 2013.

Spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva that the Office plans to deploy a human rights monitoring team to CAR early next week to strengthen the existing monitoring capacity of the human rights section of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the country (BINUCA).

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned Friday that children are increasingly becoming the victims of violence and forced recruitment amidst ongoing atrocities. "Urgent action is needed now to protect children from harm, release them from armed groups, and provide them with safe access to humanitarian assistance," the agency said in a news release.

With growing tension between communities, the chances increase that violent clashes such as those in Bangui and other cities may escalate into large scale massacres, said UNICEF, noting that there have been confirmed attacks on children and women in Mboki two weeks ago and in Bouali three days ago.

"There must be no further delay in taking effective action; there can be no excuse for failing the children and families of the Central African Republic," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "Action must be impartial and swift to stop the targeting of children, to protect schools, health facilities and transit centres, and to provide care and support to victims - with no impunity for the perpetrators of these outrages against children."

The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, welcomed the Council's action and called for robust action to end violations against the children in CAR.

"Children are killed and mutilated, recruited by armed groups, victims of sexual violence and other grave child rights violations," she said. "All parties must commit to ending violations and perpetrators must be held accountable. Reopening schools that have been shut down and ensuring safe access for teachers and students must also be a priority."

--IBNS (Posted on 07-12-2013)

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