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International force in Central African Republic possible – UN humanitarian chief

International force in Central African Republic possible – UN humanitarian chief

USG John Holmes
A multi-dimensional international force could be deployed to the troubled northeast of the Central African Republic (CAR) without the approval of neighbouring Chad, which is beset by its own civil strife, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official said today.

But John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council that some sort of international presence is also vital in eastern Chad, where hundreds of thousands of refugees from the CAR and Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs), are living.

The CAR has said it supports the arrival of an international force to try to stabilize its northeast, where almost 300,000 villagers have become displaced in the past year because of clashes between rebels and Government forces and the torching of numerous towns and villages by rebels.

Many Central Africans have been forced to live in the bush out of concerns for their safety if they stay in villages or camps.

Mr. Holmes – who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator – later told reporters that Chadian officials have said that while they are willing to have international gendarmes or police in the east of the country, they are not so enthusiastic about a foreign military presence.

“The position of the UN, as you know, is that you can’t have one without the other – that military protection is needed,” Mr. Holmes said.

He added that there was widespread support within the Security Council for an international force to be deployed in eastern Chad and the CAR, and said he hoped that discussions between Council members and the Chadian Government on this issue advance quickly.

The Under-Secretary-General was briefing the Council today on his observations from his recent two-week trip to Sudan, Chad and the CAR, where three separate conflicts are threatening to spill into each other.

“The humanitarian situation in all three countries is truly alarming,” Mr. Holmes said, adding that conditions were deteriorating despite the persistent efforts of UN humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Relief operations have become extremely fragile, especially in Darfur, because of increasing direct attacks on aid workers, mainly by rebels.

Mr. Holmes stressed to the Council that “in each country the fundamental and crying need is above all for political solutions brought about through dialogue and mediation.”

He said there was a clear regional aspect to the conflicts, especially in the spill over from the Darfur crisis to eastern Chad, where hundreds of thousands of Darfur refugees are living in camps.

But “there is a clearly internal aspect to each conflict too, tempting though it is for the governments concerned to shift all the blame on to Darfur. In other words, there have to be national solutions in additional to the regional approach.”

The worsening situation across the entire north of the CAR has also alarmed the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which yesterday called for more than $5 million in urgent funds to prevent a “humanitarian disaster” from emerging.

Four out of every 10 Central African children are malnourished, the abuse of women and children is widespread, and the recruitment of child soldiers is also on the rise, UNICEF warned.

In January the Fund launched an appeal for $12 million, but so far it has received just 22 per cent of that amount from donors.