- A new wave of refugees reaching Chad from the north of the Central African Republic documents another round of warfare in the country. Unidentified armed groups, believed to be unpaid ex-mercenaries of President François Bozizé, again have attacked and looted villages in the north. More than 1,200 civilians have fled into Chad.
The UN's refugee agency UNHCR, through its reception of refugees in southern Chad, is one of the few sources documenting the growing violence in the Central African Republic. Several waves of refugees have crossed into Chad and Cameroon during this year, revealing unchecked looting and violent attacks in the northern part of the country. The Bangui government is silent about the low-scale warfare and seems unwilling to protect civilians in the remote region.
During the last week, a new wave of at least 1,200 refugees have arrived southern Chad. Due to poor communications during the ongoing rainy season, UNCHR officials however do not rule out that many more Central African have arrived without having been localised. All the refugees tell tales of increasing violence and looting.
- It seems that there are a lot of armed activities in the north of the Central African Republic, Marie-Christine Bocoum of UNHCR's Chad office said today. "Refugees tell us their villages have been directly attacked and that is why they left. Others said that they fled to Chad in anticipation of attacks. What is sure is that the situation is very volatile in northern Central African Republic," she said.
The latest arrivals told UNHCR they fled their villages of Kadjama, Bele and Manda in northern Central African Republic "following attacks by a group of 25 unidentified armed men between 18 and 20 July." They said they arrived in southern Chad on 21 July, but UNHCR and Chadian refugee authorities had only been able to reach them on Thursday.
The newly arrived tell the same stories as the estimated 10,000 Central Africans that fled to Chad last month. Prior to the recent arrivals, there were already 30,000 Central African refugees in southern Chad, who arrived in 2003 after the military coup that brought General Bozizé to power with the help of Chadian mercenaries and local rebels.
Most observers agree that the armed groups causing trouble in the country's north are the same mercenaries and rebels that brought General Bozizé to power in 2003. The recently elected General has been unable to pay a decent compensation to the soldiers taking him to Bangui. Local sources hold that some received a modest payment, while other refused to accept the payment as it was smaller than agreed upon.
Many of Mr Bozizé's fighters soon thereupon left Bangui, hading towards the bush. There are no confirmed reports about where these fighters went, but most theories indicate they headed back northwards and started collecting "their payments" from civilians at rifles moth. During the last years, dispersed reports about armed activities in the region have leaked out - not through Bangui but via refugees in Cameroon and Chad.
In the north-west, armed groups put in connection with Mr Bozizé's mercenaries early this year started abducting members of the cattle-owning M'bororo community, demanding ransoms. Impoverished M'bororo fled all their belongings, heading towards Cameroon. Since May, attacks have been carried out on a large number of villages and farmers and herders have been robbed regardless of ethnicity. More than 10,000 have fled into Chad.
The Bangui government however remains silent on the attacks in the north. There have been no reports of government forces heading north to assist the communities under attack. The silence and unwillingness of President Bozizé to intervene have strengthened the theory that the armed groups are affiliated to the President and operate with his silent blessing.
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