BANGUI/DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The threat of violence has left some 40,000 people stranded without food rations at a makeshift camp near the airport in the Central African Republic’s capital, a U.N. official said on Monday.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has 5,000 metric tonnes of food aid stored in warehouses at Bangui airport – enough to last until February 2014, but desperate locals outside the camp are stopping relief workers from delivering it to those displaced by the ongoing conflict, said Guy Adoua, deputy country director for WFP in the CAR.
“Even before we started giving out the aid, I could see men with knives and machetes in the crowd who were not part of our beneficiaries. I immediately decided that it wasn’t safe to distribute aid without proper protection,” Adoua told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Adoua was forced to shut down aid distribution at the designated point one kilometre outside Mpoko international airport.
The Central African Republic has been paralysed by cycles of violence since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in March. Their time in power has been marked by killings, looting and other abuses, prompting Christian militia to take up arms against the rebels.
The militia and gunmen loyal to Bozize attacked the capital last week, triggering fresh killings and reprisals that have deepened the inter-religious conflict. More than 500 people died and 100,000 were displaced in the capital alone.
A 1,600 strong U.N.-authorised French peacekeeping mission has restored a degree of calm and shops are beginning to open around the capital. However, large numbers of people are still gathered in camps and are refusing to go home until the police and armed forces have established security.
“We are currently in talks with the French Troops and FOMAC (Multinational Force of Central Africa) in an attempt to patrol the food distribution sites so we can start handing out food again. We are hoping to have a solution before the end of the week,” said Adoua.
He added local authorities had forbidden the WFP from handing out aid inside the airport, where it would be more secure, because they wanted the displaced to return to their homes. The WFP food aid is strictly for those inside the airport camp and in other camps around the capital, he said.
The Central African Republic is facing the worst humanitarian and human rights crisis since its independence. The number of internally displaced people has increased dramatically in recent days, to over half a million. Some 230,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries, a European Commission press release said on Monday.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has sharply criticised the U.N. in recent days for failing to react faster to the conflict in the CAR.