Self-proclaiming the head of a state of a coup d’état-prone country is no child’s play as Central African Republic (CAR) President Michel Djotodia found out barely three weeks after he and his Seleka rebels overthrew dictator Francois Bozize.
Crime, violence, looting and uncertainty have since overrun the troubled nation’s capital Bangui, transforming it into a huge World War II battlefield, where dead bodies are littered in the streets and damaged infrastructure lies helpless, and injured and hungry people cry for help that is nowhere to be found.
The first victims of this intensifying conflict are the children, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said yesterday, urging all armed groups to stop actions that are putting civilian lives at risk, either through fighting or by preventing humanitarian aid reaching those in need.
“Children are caught in the crossfire in their daily activities, when playing football or attending church. This is outrageous,” UNICEF CAR Representative Souleymane Diabate said.
“Today, there is less and less place where children from the Central African Republic are safe,” he added.
Since renewed clashes erupted at the end of March, many other children have been victims of stray bullets, while others have been recruited into armed groups, the UN children agency said.
There has also been a documented increase in cases of sexual violence, Diabate lamented, as Djotodia called for FOMAC (Force Militaire de l’Afrique Centrale) and the French army to help contain the violence and restore peace and security in Bangui.
But French foreign minister Laurent Fabius brushed aside Djotodia’s request, saying there was a need, first, to have a legitimate government in place before everything can return to normal in the country. However, there is a contingent of French troops currently guarding the Bangui airport.
Residents also accuse the Seleka rebels of unnecessarily shooting into the crowd and looting. The Seleka rebels, believed to be armed by Chad with weapons bought in Eritrea, killed 13 South African troops and wounded 27 others on their way to overthrow Bozize.
The make-shift government of Djotodia was due to kick off a disarmament operation consisting of returning weapons in exchange of cash. But experts believe this will not solve the problem in the short term.
Meanwhile UNICEF said at least three children have been killed since Friday and 25 others injured – four of those in critical condition – since Friday in the intense fighting taking place in the capital city of Bangui.
“We are seeing a country quickly sliding down into a spiral of chaos with more children’s lives endangered,” Diabate said.
“Violence against children must stop. These acts in which innocent people have been killed and wounded must be investigated immediately by the authorities in power”.
UNICEF said it distributed emergency basic obstetric surgical kits, health equipment and medicines to 15 health centres, four hospitals and a maternity clinic in and around Bangui last week.
“Children injured last week have received emergency medical care with UNICEF supplies. Yet, there is still a severe shortage of surgical facilities, supplies, and qualified doctors and nurses across the country as insecurity continues to prevent humanitarian access to much of the country,” Diabate said.
UNICEF calls on the international community to mobilise urgently needed humanitarian funding and to actively engage in promoting conflict resolution efforts to immediately halt the ongoing violence before it sinks into total anarchy and eliminates any hope for the future of CAR’s children.