(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Concerns over food availability as rebels advance

[CAR] The head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Toby Lanzer (left) and Jean-Charles Dei (right) of the World Food Program (WFP) speak to reporters during a press conference on the humanitarian flight towards the country's affected  by  the
Joseph Benamsse/IRIN

A humanitarian team on an assessment mission to Bria, northern Central African Republic (CAR), found a shortage of meat in the area, a sign that most of its cattle-breeding residents had fled because of rebel activity, a United Nations official said on Thursday.

At the same time, a rebel coalition that has already captured three towns in the north claimed it had captured a fourth town on Wednesday. The town of Ouadda, in the northeastern prefecture of Haute-Kotto, reportedly fell into rebel hands after government troops there joined the rebellion.

Briefing journalists in Bangui, the capital, on Wednesday's trip to Bria, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Toby Lanzer, said local authorities had told him that 5,000 to 10,000 people had fled the town.

Lanzer led the team to Bria, which comprised officials of the UN World Food Programme, Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organization.

Bria was reportedly the next target of the rebel coalition that is opposed to President François Bozize, whom they accused of ruling along ethnic lines.

The mission to Bria was the first by a UN delegation to the northern part of the country since the rebellion broke out on 30 October when the rebels captured Birao, capital of the northern prefecture of Vakaga.

Lanzer said the team could not verify the numbers of displaced because the ICRC investigation was still under way.

Quoting local authorities in Bria, Lanzer said: "Those who fled the town made their way toward the neighbouring town of Bamabari or Bangui and some have gone into the bush."

On Tuesday, the deputy head of Bria told IRIN that civilians fleeing rebel-controlled areas such as Ouadda-Djalle and Sam-Ouandja were arriving in Bria.

Regarding the food shortage, Lanzer said, "The scarcity of meat on the market showed that people - some of whom are cattle breeders - had left the region."

Lanzer appealed to international donors to come to the aid of the CAR.

"Come, come quickly," he said. "It is necessary to invest in this country; it is necessary to foster development in this country."

He linked the current unrest in the north to lack of investment and development. "It is necessary to show the population that there really is hope and that things will improve," he added.

Lanzer said the problems the country was facing arose from poverty linked to poor investment and development, paving the way for instability.

"One should not wait for 100 percent stability in all parts of this country before making investments," he said.

Lanzer's remarks reflect the deteriorating economic and social situation in the CAR in the last two decades. Foreign investment has dwindled and the economy has deteriorated.

Bozize seized power from President Ange-Felix Patasse in March 2003. He retained the position after elections in May 2005.


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