MSF and MSF Podcasts: Bangolo/Brussels, April 25, 2007 - A week after the official suppression of the Zone of Confidence, the international humanitarian organisation Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) reports a sharp increase of violence against civilians in the area around Bangolo.
The Zone of Confidence (zone de confiance) was a buffer zone between the warring parties in Ivory Coast, spanning from the Liberian border in the west to the frontier with Ghana in the east, under the responsibility of the UN peacekeepers and a French force, together known as the Impartial Forces. As part of a recently approved peace process, the zone is being dismantled and the Impartial Forces have reduced their activities and presence.
From April 16 onward, the MSF team in Bangolo have reported almost daily attacks against people living in the Zone of Confidence, as well as for those who have to travel across the zone. Assaults on small buses, robberies, assassinations and rapes reached an alarming level.
"The security situation in the area around Bangolo had already been very bad over the past two years, as we have seen in the course of our work here and have documented in a collection of testimonies," says Operational Coordinator Stephan Goetghebuer, who visited the Zone of Confidence last week. "This was in spite of the presence of Impartial Forces who aimed at maintaining a minimum level of peace and security. Now these forces are being redeployed and the people living in the zone are, for the moment, left defenceless."
Armed bandits are currently multiplying their attacks in this area and imposing a law of fear. Most attacks happen along the main route between Man and Duékoué. Vehicles, from buses to bikes, are stopped at gunpoint; often this is accompanied by shooting, after which people's belongings are stolen.
On many occasions women are raped as part of the attacks. The MSF team received six raped women this month and fears that others are simply not coming to the hospital. The city of Bangolo is not safe either, as attacks here take place at night. Part of the population is fleeing their homes and hiding in the bush or seeking protection during the nights in the hospital supported by MSF, where since January 2007 more than 30 wounded by gunshots were treated.
The announced deployment of Ivorian security forces in the Zone of Confidence does not provide any sense of relief in an area where waves of violence were already part of the daily life and where today the vacuum of power can even lead to a worsening of the situation.
"While optimism is accompanying the political progress in Ivory Coast, people in this zone are increasingly subjected to banditry that has never been brought under control", says Goetghebuer.
Since January 2004, MSF works in Bangolo hospital and runs mobile clinics in neighbouring villages. The team provides more than 4,300 consultations per month. MSF is the only humanitarian organisation permanently present in that area.
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