Rebels of the Seleka coalition sit on a pickup truck as they seek people suspected of looting in a neighborood of Bangui on March 26, 2013. – Copyright : AFP/File
Geneva (AFP)
Strife-torn Central African Republic is on the brink of a far deeper crisis, a senior UN aid official warned Friday, as the country’s new rulers defended their human rights record.

“The situation is critical and requires our urgent attention. We have been very heavily focussed on Syria, and the Sahel, which is of course understandable, but this is a place which requires our full support,” said Ted Chaiban, emergencies director at the world body’s children’s agency UNICEF.

“The situation is fragile, and could even get worse,” he told reporters.

The nation of 4.6 million has been in chaos since March, when president Francois Bozize was overthrown by the Seleka rebel coalition, which has since been disbanded.

The population’s already tough daily existence has got progressively worse since then, amid tit-for-tat attacks by warring factions and a collapse of public services.

“There are 1.6 million people estimated to be in direct need of food, protection, healthcare, water, sanitation and shelter,” said Chaiban, who has just returned from an aid mission.

Around 400,000 people have fled their homes, many hiding in the bush to escape violence. An estimated 700,000 children are being denied an education due to the destruction or military occupation of their schools.

Among other stark figures, Chaiban said, half a million people face hunger regularly.

There are also an estimated 3,500 child soldiers in various armed groups — aid workers managed to demobilise 114 over recent weeks.

Despite the crisis, donor nations have only provided 39 percent of the $195 million sought in a UN aid appeal, Chaiban said.

Adding to the grim picture, attacks by opposing forces are stoking tensions between the Christian majority and Muslims, who formed the bulk of the Seleka fighters.

“You do not want CAR to become the next instance of a place where a failed transition leads to widespread ethnic tensions and concerns about political governance that require an even larger commitment to resolve,” Chaiban warned.

Seleka leader Michel Djotodi, officially disbanded the rebel coalition after he was sworn in as president in August, marking the beginning of an 18-month transition period up to the organisation of elections.

A UN-ordered, African-led stabilisation force is gradually deploying to the strife-torn country.

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council Friday, the country’s freshly-installed justice minister, Arsene Sende, said the situation was improving.

“It’s important to note that since the international force was set up and has been deploying, the situation is gradually being resolved,” he said.

Sende insisted that the rebels-turned-rulers were serious about cracking down on abuses by their own ranks.

“In the past two weeks, every single day there have been arrests of members of the Seleka forces, with some 50 in detention, including colonels.”

“It is important of course that others are brought to justice, given the violations of human rights that have taken place,” he insisted.

Signature : NLB