The deaths of dozens of civilians and six Red Cross workers were announced on Wednesday, just one day after the U.N. declared early warning signs of genocide in the Central African Republic.
The aid workers and civilians died in a clash between an armed group and a self-defence group in Gambo, located in the southeastern part of C.A.R. Gambo is less than 50 miles away from Bangassou, a town “that has been the flashpoint amid the upsurge of bloodshed in the long chaotic country,” according to Al Jazeera. While the clash took place late last week, it was only on Wednesday that the Red Cross announced the accident, saying in a press release that they are “shocked and saddened” by the violent deaths of their volunteers and added that they are “deeply concerned about the resurgence of violence in the Central African Republic in recent months.” The volunteers were attending a crisis meeting at a health centre in Gambo when the attack occurred.
This is the third attack to claim the lives of Red Cross personnel this year and adds to the harrowing fact that at least nine U.N. peacekeepers have also been killed in 2017. Local authorities have attributed the clash to the mostly Muslim armed rebel group formerly known as Seleka and are now called UPC. Their opponent was a local self-defence group that had arisen in order protect the town from UPC and other militias in the wake of renewed violence.
Earlier in the week, U.N. Aid Chief, Stephen O’Brien, said that “the early warning signs of genocide are there” and the country risks “a repeat of the devastating destructive crisis that gripped the country four years ago.” O’Brien referred to the tumultuous and violent time following the 2012 deposition of President Francois Bozize by the majority-Muslim Seleka. The Seleka held power for only a year until they, in turn, were overthrown by a military intervention led by C.A.R’s former colonial rulers, France. Seleka’s violent tactics prompted the Christians in the country (who make up about 80% of the population) to form their own self-defence groups known as “Anti-Balaka” groups, named for the machetes Seleka uses. The secular conflict has wreaked havoc on the nation, which is often ranked as the poorest in the world. Its extreme poverty, however, does not reflect its resources as C.A.R is home to vast amounts of valuable raw materials like diamonds and gold, which, as in many other places, is often the cause of conflicts and then funds its continuation.
Despite the 12,000 U.N peacekeepers stationed in the county and a peace accord signed in June, violence has continued with increasing severity. The day after the truce was agreed to by the government and 13 armed groups, fighting broke out that killed 50 people, followed by further clashes that left more than 100 dead. In a report released in early July, Human Rights Watch says that, at least, 566 civilians have died in attacks between November 2014 and April 2017, but they say that number is “likely to be a fraction of the totals during this period because no comprehensive record of the deaths and destruction exists.” About half of the country’s population of 4.8 million people need food and humanitarian aid for survival, which is the largest population in need per capita, according to the U.N. Much of its population has been forced to flee their homes due to fighting, with an estimated 500,000 internal refugees.
With that said, despite a worsening humanitarian crisis compounded by intensified violence, the U.N. has only received 24% of the requested $497 million to properly address the chaos in C.A.R. A lack of funding is sadly too often the case in many countries in dire need, and C.A.R, hailed as one of the most neglected conflicts in the world, is no exception. There is some hope, however, that the small African nation may get some additional support as the U.N. Peacekeeping Chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, indicated last week that he may send a request for additional troops to the U.N. Security Council. Hopefully, O’Brien’s warnings of genocide and the deaths of hardworking volunteers will draw attention to the grave and ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic.
In the meantime, it is the hope that O’Brien’s warnings of genocide and the deaths of hardworking volunteers will draw attention to the grave and ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic.
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