Sunday, March 04, 2007

Darfur's tragedy spills into Central African Republic

February 26, 2007.

BIRAO, Central African Republic (AP) -- The lucky ones live in this former rebel stronghold secured by a handful of French and government forces. The unlucky live in the lawless countryside, their villages abandoned, their lives at the mercy of bandits, rebels and renegade soldiers.

Central African Republic has struggled for more than a year to contain a homegrown low-intensity rebellion in the northwest. Now, a new insurgency in the northeast near Sudan's Darfur region has compounded this fragile nation's troubles and displaced tens of thousands of people.

"The security situation was always deplorable, but it's gotten worse with Darfur," regional Gov. Franck Francis Gazi said in Birao, the small sun-blasted capital of Vakaga, a region held for a month by rebels until late 2006. "The conflict in Sudan has consequences for us. There is a cause and effect."

President Francois Bozize accuses Sudan's Omar al-Bashir of backing the northeastern rebels, charges Sudan denies. Diplomats and U.N. officials say it's unclear who is supporting them, but insurgents are believed to operate in part from bases in lawless Darfur.

The U.N. Security Council said in a report Friday that a recent U.N. assessment mission to Birao found no "compelling evidence" that troubles in the northeast are directly related to Darfur. But the mission, it said, "took note of the government's view that the two situations are linked."

U.N. considering peacekeeping force.

Nevertheless, the U.N. is studying creating a peacekeeping force that would deploy hundreds of troops to Central African Republic and thousands more to Chad to prevent incursions along the two countries' borders with Darfur.

The barren frontier region is porous, remote and poorly policed. Central African Republic, a nation of 4 million, has an army of fewer than 4,500 men, with only 1,000 soldiers actively deployed. A "border post" can be one guard.

Herdsmen and smugglers have crossed these borderlands without passports for centuries with ease -- as have armed groups and arms trafficked through Africa's war-torn heart.

In April 2006, Chadian rebels based in Darfur traversed Central African Republic en route to attack Chad's capital, N'djamena. The same month, a cargo plane carrying arms and dozens of unidentified combatants left Sudan and landed on two consecutive days in the Central African Republic town of Tiringoulou. Some diplomats and senior U.N. officials believe the plane carried the seeds of the northeast rebellion.

The region suffered its first major rebel attack October 29, when insurgents seized Birao and held it for weeks. Gazi said Sudanese and Chadians were among the attackers, who went on to seize half a dozen small towns before retreating from the last in December after a government assault led by French forces, who turned the tide with attack helicopters and Mirage fighter jets.

For now, Vakaga is quiet, though rebels still control territory in the area. Two weeks ago, one woman was shot dead by unknown attackers in a roadside ambush near Birao, Gazi said.

About 60 percent of Vakaga's villages are abandoned, said Karline Kleyer of MSF-Holland, the only non-governmental humanitarian organization operating here. The prefecture is home to about 56,000 people.

"People are afraid, very afraid ... of the rebels, of the governmental troops," Kleyer said. "The population is almost forced to take sides. They're told 'You're with us, or you're against us.' They're trapped in the middle."

'We lived like animals'

During the rebel occupation, most residents fled Birao, living as refugees in the open, prone to cold night air with little or no shelter. They survived on wild fruit, roots and what was left of their fields.

"We lived like animals. We ate whatever we could find," said Sende Dieudonne, a 34-year-old teacher, who returned to find his home looted. Some women said rebels had raped them.

Similar insecurity elsewhere in the country has displaced about 150,000 people, while 70,000 more fled to Chad and Cameroon, according to the U.N, which says tens of thousands of women have been raped by combatants.

Most of Central African Republic's problems appear internal, however, borne of a long history of poverty, coups, mutinies and rebellions. But conflict in Darfur can easily affect the situation here.

Sudan has staunchly opposed pressure to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur, a region at war since 2003, when rebels from ethnic African tribes rose up against the central Arab-led government. The Sudanese government is accused of responding in part by backing Arab militia in Darfur who have been accused of some of the conflict's worst atrocities.

The U.N.'s special envoy to Bangui, Lamine Cisse, said if Sudan was supporting the rebellion, it might be doing so to discourage peacekeepers from deploying here.

"Their strategy is no troops in Darfur," Cisse said. "So, no troops close to the boundary with Darfur. They can't say ... 'Don't accept troops in your country,' because it's a question of sovereignty. But on the ground they can make trouble."

Sudan also may be supporting rebels in Chad and Central African Republic to undermine their governments. Bozize is closely allied with Chad, and Chadian soldiers form a crucial part of Bozize's presidential guard. Under a security agreement, Chad's military is free to cross into Central African Republic.

Around 2,000 Chadian troops used to be on Central African Republic's northern border, keeping pressure on the northwestern rebellion. But those troops were sent to fight Darfur-based Chadian rebels in eastern Chad last year.

The result: emboldened rebels here launched new attacks, prompting Bozize's presidential guard to retaliate brutally, burning countless villages whose inhabitants were suspected of supporting the rebellion.

Vehicles frighten residents.

Along the main northern road from Paoua to Markounda on the Chad border, village after village sits silent and abandoned. Thatched roofs have collapsed and burned. Red-earth walls have been torn down and charred.

So terrorized are people that the mere sound of an approaching vehicle one recent day sent dozens of women and children running for their lives.

The villagers thought the convoy contained soldiers. They returned minutes later when they saw the vehicles carried aid workers and human rights officials.

Source: CNN.

PS. I have a few words for the UN. Go to hell. Sudan started this genocide. How dare you say it was the other way around. You are nothing but a bunch of dirty, lying dogs.

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