CAR

CAR: Bambari residents demand reopening of highway

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BANGUI, 7 March (IRIN) - Residents of Bambari, a town 385 km northeast of the capital, Bangui, have called on the government to reopen the main road leading from Bangui to the east, which has been closed since October 2002, when renegade troops tried to overthrow the government, according to Radio Centrafrique.
Bambari has been without electric power and safe drinking water for the past three months because state-owned utility companies have run out of fuel. The radio said on Thursday that health centres and the university teaching hospital in Bambari had registered several cases of diarrhoea. The radio also reported that the teaching hospital was facing acute shortages of drugs and other medical supplies. The hospital last received drugs in October 2002.

The closure of the road has also prevented the supply of basic commodities, whose prices have risen sharply. One litre of kerosene that cost 375 francs CFA (US $0.6) before the rebels started their war now sells for 2,000 francs. Similarly, one litre of gasoline that used to cost 675 francs now sells for 2,500 francs.

Moreover, thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have flocked to Bambari from the rebel-held towns of Grimari, Bakala and Mbres (respectively 305 km, 384 km and 425 km northeast of Bangui). These IDPs have not yet received any aid. The UN World Food Programme representative in the CAR, David Bulman, said he had withdrawn his staff from the agency's sub-office in Bambari because of threats by armed people.

Bambari, one of the largest towns in the east, withstood two rebel incursions in December 2002. A witness to these incursions said the rebels had attacked official buildings, looted vehicles, telecommunication equipment and drugs, and stolen money from Lebanese merchants. Being behind rebel lines until recently, the town was isolated from the capital.

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