Central African Republic: NGO suspends activities in northwest after health workers abducted

BANGUI, 23 May 2007 (IRIN) - The Catholic charity, Caritas, has suspended some of its activities in the town of Bozoum, northwestern Central African Republic (CAR), after the abduction of two health workers in the volatile region, an official said.

The health workers, including a nurse working for the Italian organisation, Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI) (, were abducted by armed men on Saturday. COOPI aims to improve local health facilities in the area.

Sources said the abductions took place in the bush, 38km from Bozoum. "It is the first time armed bandits have attacked aid workers in the region," Gen Raymond Ndougou, prefect of Bozoum, told IRIN. "The abductions mark the escalation of banditry in the region."

Fr Aurelio Gazzera of Caritas said in a statement that assistance to farmers' associations in the town, monitoring water sanitation and support to schools, would be suspended. However, the 11,000 displaced people living in Bozoum, 384km northwest of the capital, Bangui, would continue to receive help.

He appealed to the CAR government, non-governmental agencies and UN agencies "to take action for concrete interventions that can change the painful situation of the population" affected by conflict in the northwestern Ouham-Pendé Province, where security has deteriorated over the past year due to armed banditry and rebellion.

In New York, the UN strongly condemned the capture of the two health workers and called for their immediate release. According to the UN, nearly 300,000 people have fled their homes in the CAR over the past year because of violence.

"The UN is highly concerned by the recent decline in the security situation in the northwest, which is threatening humanitarian work," UN spokesperson Michele Montas said.

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 the marauding bandits since October.

The rebels are believed to be opponents of President François Bozize who want to undermine his authority, claiming he overthrew a legitimate government in March 2003, mismanaged public funds and divided the nation. The insurgency has brought untold suffering to civilians in Ouham-Pendé province.