CAR

UN receives pledge to respect refugee rights from Central African rebel leader

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The force commander of United Nations peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been assured by the leader of a major armed group that it will respect the rights of refugees amid heightening tensions in the country's northeast, it was announced today.

Blue helmets serving with the UN's peacekeeping mission in CAR and Chad (MINURCAT) have been protecting a camp of refugees in northeastern CAR since an attack in mid-December - apparently by bandits - left three people dead on a nearby road, including two rebel Union des Forces Démocratiques et du Rassemblement (UFDR) members.

MINURCAT Force Commander General Elhadji Mouhamadou Kandji met with UFDR leader General Zakaria Damane yesterday in Sam Ouandja, where the camp sheltering some 3,000 refugees from neighbouring Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region is located.

During the talks, Gen. Damane pledged to fully adhere to international humanitarian law with regards to the Sam Ouandja and to refrain from blocking distributions by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other humanitarian agencies to the camp.

The Force Commander's intervention follows visits in recent days by the Secretary-General's Special Representative to the CAR, Victor Angelo, to Sam Ouandja and the capital Bangui, where he held discussions on the issue with President Francois Bozizé.

One of the poorest and most under-developed countries in the world, the CAR has been beset by sporadic conflict between Government forces and rebels, leaving hundreds of thousands of people displaced. The fighting and tensions have been most acute in the northeast.

MINURCAT, established by the Security Council in 2007, is mandated to protect civilians and refugees as well as promote human rights and peace in the troubled northeastern part of the CAR and eastern Chad. With just over half of the military personnel currently deployed, the mission's full troop strength is authorized at over 5,000.