March 05, 2009

Regions in northern Central African Republic have witnessed renewed fighting since the end of February  involving rebel groups and the national army.

View Zemio, Central African Republic in a larger map

Regions in northern Central African Republic (CAR) have witnessed renewed fighting since the end of February involving rebel groups and the national army.

“Fighting took place in and around several locations where MSF works, including Bongono, Batangafo, Bokayanga and Kabo,” said Stéphane Hauser, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) coordinator in Batangafo. “Confrontations and violence due to armed groups have also flared up in the region. Civilians who have fled to the bush for safety have also been attacked. In one village, several hundred houses were burned down.”

Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes temporarily as a result of the violence. Fifteen people have been injured so far. MSF teams have treated seven people suffering from gunshot wounds at hospitals in Batangafo and Kabo. The majority of victims are civilians. A third MSF surgical team–comprised of an anesthetist and a surgeon–has joined two teams that are already working in the hospitals.

MSF also supports seven healthcare posts in the region, but has had to scale down its work as a result of the insecurity. “Our team was obliged to temporarily suspend almost all of its out-of-town visits, along with activities at healthcare posts in Bokayanga and Bongono, which normally see about 250 patients per week,” said Hauser. “Because of the lack of security, part of the population went into the bush and we saw a marked drop in the number of consultations.”

When the population is forced to seek refuge in the bush, they become out-of-reach of MSF medical teams and no longer have access to healthcare. In Batangafo region alone, MSF reports a 50 percent reduction in the average number of patients seen, despite increased healthcare needs.

“Little by little, we have seen an increasing number of patients whose state of health has been worsened by their flight into the bush. By this we mean children suffering from malaria, respiratory infections, diarrhea and conjunctivitis; and adults suffering from non-specific types of pain,” Hauser said.

“MSF is one of the few remaining factors of stability and normality for the region's inhabitants,” said Gabriel Sánchez Ibarra, MSF head of mission in CAR.

Despite the implementation of a peace process designed to put an end to years of conflict in the CAR, armed groups still operate in the triangle made up by the villages of Kabo in the north, Batangafo to the west and Ouandago to the east. They include CAR armed forces, rebel groups, and armed bandits. Other confrontations between local groups such as nomadic herders and farmers continue to fan the flames of insecurity in this triangle of violence.

“Bruised by years of conflict, the civilian population has now been taken hostage by violence committed by these armed players,” said Sánchez Ibarra. “In medical terms, the facilities managed and supported by MSF are often the only healthcare services available. And at a human level, we are no doubt one of the few remaining factors of stability and normality for the region's inhabitants, who today live in fear of a return to open conflict. Therefore it is very important for MSF to remain here and to continue working with them.”

MSF has 345 staff working in the Kabo and Batangafo region, including 305 national staff. MSF manages medical programs in two other regions of the country: in the northwest at Paoua, Boguila and Markounda, and in the northeast around Gordil and Birao.

MSF has worked in the CAR since 1997.