CAR: Kidnapped health workers released but NGOs stay away

News and Press Release
Originally published
BANGUI, 29 May 2007 (IRIN) - The Italian charity, Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), will not resume activities in northwestern Central African Republic, despite the release of two kidnapped health workers, an official said.

"We closed our bureau in Bozoum because of insecurity," Marco Cordero of the Italian NGO, COOPI, said on 29 May. "The whole zone is in danger."

"The abduction of the two nurses has had serious consequences for the activities of the Italian NGO in the region," Cordero told IRIN.

COOPI is providing technical assistance to health centres in Bozoum, Bocaranga and Ngaoundai in Ouham Pende prefecture. Together these towns have a population of 150,000-200,000.

According to Cordero, COOPI, which has operated in the volatile region for about 34 years, would reopen its office in Bozoum, 384km northwest of the capital of Bangui, when working conditions became acceptable in term of security.

The two health workers, including a nurse working for COOPI, were abducted by armed men on 19 May in the bush 38km from Bozoum and released on Sunday night. CAR national radio said they were in good health.

Earlier, Gen Raymond Ndougou, prefect of Bozoum, said: "The abductions mark the escalation of banditry in the region."

Following the kidnapping, the Catholic charity, Caritas, suspended assistance to farmers' associations, monitoring water sanitation and support to schools in the town. It was not clear when Caritas would resume full activities in the region.

Northwest CAR has been the scene of clashes between government forces and rebels of the Armée populaire pour la restauration de la république et de la démocratie (APRD), and marauding bandits since October.

The rebels are believed to be opponents of President François Bozize, who claim he overthrew a legitimate government in March 2003, has mismanaged public funds and divided the nation.

The insurgency has brought untold suffering to civilians in Ouham-Pendé. The recent abductions illustrate the escalating insecurity in the region over the five past years because of armed rebellion and the proliferation of armed bandits called 'Zaraginas'.