CAR: Rebel defections may boost aid work in northwest

News and Press Release
Originally published
BANGUI, 27 June 2007 (IRIN) - Two months after the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) concluded a peace agreement with a rebel group in the northeast, some fighters belonging to another insurgent group in the northwest have abandoned rebellion, sources said.

The move, observers said, could boost ongoing efforts to resume humanitarian work in the volatile region where the killing of a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) worker on 11 June prompted agencies to suspend operations.

The International Medical Corps has decided to resume operations in Vakaga Province, an area beset by rebellion, rampant banditry and the spillover of conflicts in Chad and Sudan.

MSF, which has had to suspend work in the northwest 29 times due to insecurity, said it had yet to reopen its mobile clinics, which provide primary healthcare to more than 6,500 people a month.

"We are tired of the rebellion and we want to make peace with the government following repeated appeals by President [François] Bozize," Magloire Nguetel, head of military operations for the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) rebel force, told IRIN from Paoua town on 26 June.

Renouncing rebellion

Local sources said tens of APRD rebels had returned to the town while government sources claimed another 100 rebels had surrendered to the local authorities in the northern town of Kaga-Bandoro.

"We have registered 33 rebels who decided to join the national army and put an end to violence in the region," Lt Bechir Dopani, commander of the presidential guards detached in Paoua, said.

Nguetel, a former soldier under the previous Patasse regime who joined the rebellion in 2004, was among those who had renounced rebellion. "Many of my colleagues who are still in the bush are ready to lay down their guns and come back," he said. "They fear for their safety and want to get a solemn guarantee from the ruling regime over their security before making their final decision."

APRD spokesman, Laurent Djim-Woei Bibetim, confirmed the defections but warned his men against it. "Some of our men are now defecting and going back to town," he said. "We have made a new law that [means] killing any rebel who tries to run away."

Paoua district officer, Capt Jacques Maho, said the defectors had complained of poor treatment in the bush. "The rebels who surrendered revealed they were living in bad conditions, running out of food and medicine in the bush," he said. However, he added, the defections were partly linked to the efforts of the people of Paoua, who set up a committee to discuss how to end the violence.

Talking peace

"A group of elders have met the rebels on several occasions to advocate for the return of peace," he explained.

The APRD is one of the groups fighting Bozize's government, claiming he overthrew a legitimate government in March 2003, has mismanaged public funds and divided the nation. In February, one of its commanders, Bertin Wafio, announced he would welcome any relief organisation willing to take care of the children in rebel ranks - estimated by aid workers to be about 300.

According to the UN, nearly 300,000 people have fled their homes in the CAR over the past year because of violence.

On 26 June, Amnesty International warned that the northern areas of CAR affected by conflict had become a free-for-all hunting ground for various armed opposition forces, government troops and even armed bandits. It said there was a near-complete vacuum of authority to protect civilians in the region.