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Violence hinders aid delivery in northern Central African Republic: agencies

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fighting between rival armed groups and a string of attacks on humanitarians in northern Central African Republic has hindered the delivery of aid to about 120,000 people in need of food, agencies said on Thursday.

Violence in the town of Kaga Bandoro last month between the mainly Muslim Seleka group and Christian anti-Balaka militia killed six people and forced 3,200 to flee their homes, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

While the U.N. peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) has managed to quell the fighting and improve security, there has been a heavy spell of attacks on aid agencies, said Fabrizio Hochschild, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the country.

“The situation is always fragile in Kaga Bandoro. There is an uneasy calm at the best of times,” Hochschild told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

There were more than 16 attacks on aid groups in the region in September, including assaults on humanitarians, break-ins and robberies, forcing many organizations to temporarily relocate staff and reduce or suspend their operations, according to OCHA.

“This has limited the provision of aid to one of the most desperate places in the country,” said Mohamed Malick Fall of the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF), adding that one of his staff was visited at home in the night and threatened.

These staff departures have hindered the delivery of aid to 120,000 people in need of food and halted a UNICEF school feeding project for 25,000 children, OCHA said.

But aid workers who left the area are now preparing to return as security improves with an increased presence from MINUSCA, said the U.N. World Food Program (WFP).

“The improvement of the situation is evidenced by the absence of night shootings and no new cases of looting ... it has started to calm down,” said Felix Gomez of the WFP.

The country has been plagued by inter-religious violence since 2013 when the Seleka seized power, prompting reprisals from the anti-Balaka militia. Despite a February election touted as a step toward reconciliation, violence is still frequent.

Eleven people were killed in clashes in the capital this week, set off by the murder of an army officer, MINUSCA said.

The fighting was a setback for the PK5 neighborhood, a Muslim enclave in the majority Christian nation’s capital of Bangui, which has been mostly peaceful since Pope Francis visited in November and urged an end to the cycle of violence.