July 24, 2007 / 2:07 PM / 13 years ago

Central African Republic humanitarian situation dire-ICRC

GENEVA, July 24 (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday voiced concern at the dire humanitarian situation in parts of Central African Republic, where it is distributing aid to 100,000 villagers who have fled fighting.

Most of the displaced are in the strife-torn northwest, staying in a forest near agricultural fields after their homes were burned down, according to an ICRC spokeswoman Jessica Barry who returned from a three-week visit.

The agency aimed to complete its distribution of the shelter items and agricultural tools by the end of August as the rainy season has already set in, she said.

Barry, describing the 13-hour drive from the capital Bangui to Paoua, an area where rebel and army troops have been fighting for the last year, told a briefing: "There are whole villages that are empty. There are houses that are burned down and people have fled into the bush".

The displaced are living in "extremely poor conditions", many in straw shelters, and lack basic medical care, she said.

The ICRC is one of the only aid agencies still operating in northwest CAR, where the United Nations suspended its operations after a French aid worker was shot dead in her car last June.

Barry’s remarks came a day after the European Union (EU) took the first step towards sending forces to Chad and the Central African Republic to help the United Nations protect refugees trapped in the violent region bordering Darfur.

A possible deployment of a 1,500- to 3,000-strong force is to be sent at the earliest at the end of October, according to Brussels-based diplomats.

Eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic have seen a spillover from the 4-year-old conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region, with cross border raids by Sudanese militias and the influx of tens of thousands of refugees.

But civilians are also victims of fighting between local rebels and government troops and heavily armed bandits.

"Although there is a lot of interest in refugees crossing the border from Darfur (Sudan) and the situation along the border with Chad and Sudan, the ICRC feels there is a situation in Central African Republic itself which is really preoccupying and needs our attention," Barry said.

Ranked as the sixth poorest country on earth, Central African Republic has been riven by decades of conflict and military uprisings since independence from France in 1960.

President Francois Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 coup, is battling separate rebellions in the northeast and northwest. The fighting has displaced more than 200,000 people in the north of the country, from a total population of 4 million.

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