Projects suspended and staff evacuated
Yaoundé, 27 March 2013 – JRS staff were forced to evacuate the Central African Republic (CAR) and suspend projects for the second time in three months due to worsening conflict between government forces and the Séleka rebel coalition.
In late December JRS suspended its projects for one month due to deteriorating security. The projects were reopened in late January, only to be closed again last week. Escorted by French military, the last cohort of evacuated JRS staff finally left the country on a UN flight late Monday night arriving in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé early Tuesday morning.
In the midst of the crisis, JRS West Africa Director, Ernesto Lorda, urged insurgents to ensure the protection of the civilian population, and to make it possible for humanitarian organisations to restart the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including education programmes for children.
Some 5,000 Séleka fighters swept into the capital on Sunday after a lightning offensive in which they fought their way from the far north to the presidential palace in four days after the collapse of the power-sharing deal, the Libreville Accord.
According to Alertnet, looters and gunmen roamed the streets of the capital, Bangui on Tuesday, as regional peacekeepers and rebels struggled to restore order two days after a coup has left the country instilled chaos. In recent months significant numbers of people came to Bangui after fleeing insecurity, and shortages of necessities have caused prices to skyrocket in the past few weeks.
The latest evacuation followed what appears to be the last breakdown in peace after the president fled the country during the weekend. The evacuation of JRS on Monday from Bangui, followed the withdrawal of staff from the northwestern surrounding Markounda. All JRS staff in the area are now safe in Chad.
Insecurity and humanitarian crisis.
Since the peace agreement last December, more than 1.1 million people living in rebel-controlled territories are said to be living in dire circumstances.
"Numerous needs assessments have demonstrated the urgent need for food, healthcare and sanitation services in rebel controlled areas. Moreover, some 166,000 children in these areas do not have access to education services. Despite the signing of a peace agreement this year, insecurity has continued, access to humanitarian organisations has been difficult, and the populations in areas affected by fighting have suffered terribly", said Mr Lorda.
"Numerous cases of human rights abuses have been reported, the local population have lost all their belongings, the rebels have systematically pillaged offices, companies, churches. The dioceses of Bangassou and Alindao and Kagabandoro in southern and central CAR have seen everything they possessed fall into the hands of rebels", added Mr Lorda.
According to the UN refugee agency, clashes since December fighting has seriously restricted humanitarian access to some 5,300 refugees and over 175,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). An estimated 29,000 civilians have fled to neighbouring Congo. Chad has also received some 5,000 refugees since the beginning of the crisis. People have continued to cross into southern Chad in the wake of insecurity.
JRS has worked in CAR since 2008. Last year, teams worked in three locations – Bria, Markounda, Ouadda – providing formal and vocational education, pastoral and psychosocial to nearly 50,000 refugees and internal displaced persons.
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