BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC/PARIS—Escalating numbers of attacks and extortion attempts against humanitarian aid workers in the Central African Republic (CAR) are threatening the provision of essential medical services for people in desperate need, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
The latest incident occurred November 7, when a clearly identified MSF truck carrying medical supplies was stopped by an armed group on the road between the capital, Bangui, and Paoua in the north, between the towns of Yaloké and Bossembélé. The truck's crew was held captive while a sum of money was demanded for the vehicle and the crew's freedom. Twenty-four hours later, on the same road, a second MSF truck was held up by the same armed group. The team leader was taken away and forced to negotiate a payment.
"These two events are extremely serious," said Delphine Chedorge, MSF's head of mission in CAR. "On each occasion, the attackers proved to be highly aggressive, insulting, threatening, pointing their guns at our staff members and shooting in the air.
"What proved to be actual confinement of teams in both cases resulted in the extortion of substantial amounts of cash," Chedorge continued. "Fortunately, no one was injured, but these types of attacks and threats against humanitarian aid workers are unacceptable."
Difficulties in supplying the approximately 15 projects MSF runs in CAR, coupled with the intense danger that its teams are exposed to, could force MSF to reduce assistance, upon which hundreds of thousands of persons depend. The aid is vital for those living in areas where MSF is the only medical provider.
"These events are indeed proof that, despite the optimistic ambient discourse dispensed primarily by international forces, the situation in CAR is far from peaceful," Chedorge said. "Insecurity still represents a major roadblock to the provision of aid in this crisis-rocked country, where the humanitarian needs are enormous."
The latest incidents are part of a steady increase in the number of attacks and extortion attempts carried out against humanitarian aid workers and vehicles over the past several months, especially since October. Despite repeated contacts with the authorities, international forces, and local armed groups, their guarantees of security are not actually followed up by action.
"The current government is completely absent and silent," said Laurent Sury, MSF emergency manager. "Impunity is widespread."
Insecurity is continuing despite international forces in CAR, including the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), French forces known as Opération Sangaris, and European Union forces known as Eufor.
"MINUSCA is a failure when it comes to protecting ordinary citizens," Sury said. "Sangaris and Eufor are unable to secure the country or the main highways. 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's involvement in CAR began in 1997. In 2013, MSF doubled the number of projects it runs to respond to the crisis in the country.