Attacks on aid workers rise in Central African Republic

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Armed groups are increasingly attacking aid workers in Central African Republic, obstructing delivery of life-saving supplies to people caught in conflict, the United Nations said on Friday.

The number of attacks in the country - one of the world’s most dangerous for humanitarian workers - has increased since April this year, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

OCHA recorded 118 incidents affecting humanitarian workers from April to June, compared with 63 in the first three months of the year, said country head Joseph Inganji. These include armed robberies, murder and kidnapping.

“This is something that is really worrying - the rate at which we are recording incidents against humanitarians,” Inganji told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Humanitarian actors have been forced to drastically reduce their activities, thereby adversely affecting the most vulnerable and needy people who rely on them for survival.”

Armed robberies are among the most common incidents, he said, but it is difficult to distinguish criminality from militia violence since bandits sometimes pose as fighters and fighters sometimes act individually as bandits.

Central African Republic has been gripped by militia violence since rebels ousted the former president in 2013, setting off a chain of reprisal attacks. More than half the population is in need of aid, Inganji said.

Five aid workers have been killed in Central African Republic so far this year, according to the Aid Worker Security Database.

Much of the violence in recent months has been around the northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where clashes continue and thousands of displaced people have yet to receive aid.

“We know that there are lots of needs but we haven’t been able to deliver assistance,” said Caroline Courtois, a manager for French charity Solidarites International.

The organization has been forced to repeatedly suspend and delay its programs because of incidents including vehicles being stolen and staff members’ houses broken into, she said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also said it had been forced to reduce activities because of attacks on its staff in recent months. ICRC provides food, water, healthcare and more to tens of thousands of people in the area.

“The question of finding a balance between staying involved and staying safe is one of the biggest challenges we face,” said ICRC chief of delegation Jean-Francois Sangsue.