100,000 citizens of Central African Republic have sought refuge at Bangui International Airport since conflict broke out (Photo: REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)
If you haven't been paying attention to the developing crisis in the Central African Republic, this week offered a few new reasons why you should be.
Yesterday, a senior United Nations humanitarian official warned that there was a serious risk that the situation could lead to genocide.
"It has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia," John Ging, director of operations for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said at a news conference in Geneva. "The elements are there, the seeds are there, for a genocide. There's no question about that."
And in a release yesterday, the World Food Programme said that an estimated 2.6 million people in the country are now in need of humanitarian assistance.
The former French colony has been descending into chaos since last March, when a mostly Muslim rebel coalition called Séléka took power and installed rebel leader Michel Djotodia as president of the country. That set off a wave of killing and revenge attacks by Christian militia groups known as "anti-balaka." The violence has displaced more than a million citizens of CAR, nearly a quarter of the country's population. Over 1,000 people have been killed in the last month alone, according to Reuters.
France has sent around 1,600 troops to join a contingent of African Union peacekeepers attempting to bring stability to the country. In December, Canada announced that it would contribute $5 million to the African-Union led effort. Among other duties, the force is guarding the estimated 100,000 people who have sought shelter at a makeshift camp at Bangui International Airport, outside the capital.
Reuters reports that the country has seen relative calm since last Friday, when President Djotodia and his prime minister agreed to step down in reaction to intense pressure from Christian militias inside the country and members of the international community as well. Still, a spokesperson for one of the anti-balaka groups told Reuters yesterday that the interim government must be overhauled soon. "If there is no solution to this, we always have our machetes which we have not yet handed in," he said. The CAR's transitional assembly is expected to meet on Jan. 20 to appoint a new interim president.
The UN has designated the country as one of the top three global humanitarian emergencies, and has put out an urgent appeal for a $271-million Strategic Response Plan to ease what it calls a "mega-tragedy." The WFP, meanwhile, is seeking $117 million to assist 1.25 million people in the country.
George is the WFP's Canada Ambassador Against Hunger.