- Unabated and continuous violence in the neighbouring Sudan and Chad has risked the lives hundreds of thousands of civilians in Central African Republic (CAR), Amnesty International (AI) warned.
"As attention remains focused on Darfur and eastern Chad, armed conflict and lawlessness in northern Central African Republic are spiralling, virtually unnoticed by the international community," the AI Researcher, Godfrey Byaruhanga, who recently returned from southern Chad and the CAR, concurred.
"The northern areas in particular have become a free-for-all - a hunting ground for the region's various armed opposition forces, government troops, and even armed bandits - some of whom come from as far away as West Africa to kidnap and loot in local villages."
Both forces loyal to the government of CAR and rebels have been accused of killing civilians for various reasons.
While armed opposition forces are accused of killing civilians who refuse to support or join them, the government forces on the other hand, have been blamed for killing civilians suspected of conniving with rebels to burn down villages during reprisal attacks.
Consequently, even civilians who survive attacks by the government and rebels are not spared for kidnapping by bandits who demand hefty ransom and looted property. In most cases, these armed bandits searched for cattle and children.
The AI blamed the CAR government for clearly failing in its duty to protect civilians in the troubled region. This, according to AI has been confirmed by its preliminary findings.
Chadian government troops and its opposition forces are also accused of carrying out incursions in the region.
"The entire area has become a cauldron of violence and fear - threatening to destabilize even further what is already one of the most unstable and dangerous areas in the world," the AI researcher said. "Civilians are trapped in a lose-lose situation, with many so afraid that they are actually fleeing into Sudan, Cameroon and southern Chad - effectively moving from the frying pan into the fire out of sheer desperation."
Godfrey Byaruhanga’s research took him to refugee camps in southern Chad where he met families whose children as young as three years had been kidnapped and held for ransom by armed bandits known as “Zaraguinas” or “coupeurs de routes.”
He said some parents had to pay ransom several times. And in some occasion, they pay as much as US $4,000 for a child. Those who previously had more than 100 heads of cattle are now destitute and dependent on meagre rations of humanitarian aid in refugee camps in southern Chad.
"The parents who got their children back after paying ransoms are the lucky ones. Some children have been killed because their parents were unable to pay the ransoms, while others are still being held with no authority to rescue them," Byaruhanga said.
"News is clearly spreading to criminal elements throughout the region that they can have free-rein in northern CAR, as there is an almost total absence of any authority," said Byaruhanga.
"Law and order in the Central African Republic is heading rapidly towards the brink of collapse - the government's authority is already effectively confined to the capital, Bangui, where also insecurity, corruption and impunity reign. The repercussions of such a collapse would be catastrophic for the entire central African region."
The AI calls for the immediate deployment of a multi-dimensional UN force to protect civilians in CAR, criticising the international community for not taking the deteriorating situation seriously.
The AI hold that the deployment of such a force should not delayed until forces are deployed in Darfur or eastern Chad.
"This situation is too dangerous and simply cannot wait. The people of CAR should not be left to live or die at the whim of the Sudanese or Chadian governments, especially when the CAR government has agreed to the deployment of an international force."
The human rights group suggested that the force become part of a more comprehensive approach to protecting civilians in CAR. Besides, the CAR government has been urged to immediately investigate and bring to justice its soldiers and other law enforcement agents accused of committing violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
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