DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A rise in attacks on aid workers in the Central African Republic is hindering the delivery of aid to rural parts of the country despite the arrival of international peacekeepers in September, a medical charity said on Tuesday.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said a truck full of medical supplies was stopped on Nov. 7 and held by an armed group on the route linking Paoua in the north to the capital Bangui.
« The attackers proved to be highly aggressive, insulting, threatening, pointing their guns at our staff members and shooting in the air, » said Delphine Chedorge, MSF’s head of mission in CAR. No one was hurt in the ambush.
Central African Republic was plunged into chaos when northern, mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the majority Christian country in March 2013, prompting a vicious backlash by the largely Christian ‘anti-balaka’ militia.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence in CAR since December 2013. The U.N. estimates 2.5 million people are in need of emergency assistance, including shelter, food and water, basic healthcare and education for children.
The gunmen demanded a sum of money for the MSF vehicle and its crew to be freed. Just 24 hours later, on the same road, the group held up a second MSF truck. The team leader was taken away and forced to negotiate a payment, MSF said in a statement.
« These recent events are part of a regular increase in the number of attacks and attempts at extortion carried out against humanitarian aid workers and vehicles over the past several months and especially since October, » the medical charity said.
In September, the U.N. peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) arrived to support French-backed troops.
Francois Goemans, head of the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in CAR, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Bangui the peacekeepers had secured the capital, but resources were thin.
« Humanitarian workers are soft targets. The international force cannot cover the whole country so now it is more difficult for humanitarians to move from one place to another, especially outside Bangui, » he said.
MSF said that MINUSCA had failed to create a secure environment for aid workers and ordinary citizens.
« Like the populations of CAR, the NGOs, victims of this security void, are easy targets for the violence and greed carried out by armed groups that no one claims to control, » MSF said.
(Reporting By Misha Hussain; Editing by Ros Russell)
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