GENEVA: International aid organisations sounded the alarm over a spike in violence in Bangui, the capital of the perennially restive Central African Republic, saying they had no access to the injured and the dying.
Twenty-four people were killed and more than 170 injured in Bangui on May 1, raising tensions and fears of a return to sectarian bloodletting in the one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries.
The violence began with a confrontation between security forces and militiamen in Bangui’s flashpoint PK5 district, which is predominantly Muslim.
The ensuing bloodbath has sparked near daily clashes and seen at least two mosques torched. On Sunday, two people were killed and 10 injured in shooting between security forces and gunmen.
“Since the start of April, the humanitarian situation has declined rapidly,” the Committee for the Coordination of International NGOs in CAR said in a statement.
It said it was “sounding the alarm given the absence of humanitarian aid in some areas of the city,” particularly PK5 and its outlying areas.
“The residents do not have access to basic services, including health care. Humanitarian workers are often denied access to women, men and children who need assistance. The impact of the security situation on humanitarian needs is extremely worrying,” a statement said.
“In no case should humanitarian workers and the wounded be targeted by acts of violence,” said Benjamin Vienot, the country head of Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger).
The lawlessness is prevalent throughout Bangui with armed youths setting up barricades across the city to protect locals from attacks.
In the southern Lakouanga quarter, masked youths armed with knives and machetes set up a makeshift barricade with tables, chairs and pieces of wood.
“We search cars entering the area and if there are any passengers who aren’t locals, we ask questions,” a masked youth said.
He said the proliferation of barricades was a result of the May 1 bloodletting, adding that their objective was to prevent militiamen from PK5 from entering.
“We don’t have the material means to defend ourselves against them but we watch out for them to sound the alarm,” he said, adding that vigilantes in the nearby Castors neighbourhood were “real warriors and well armed.”
Tte CAR spiralled into bloodshed after longtime leader François Bozizé was overthrown in 2013 by a Muslim-dominated rebel alliance called the Séléka.
Christian-dominated militias called the anti-Balaka emerged in response, accelerating a cycle of sectarian retaliatory violence.
France intervened militarily from 2013 to 2016 to push out the Séléka, winding down the operation after Faustin-Archange Touadéra was elected president.
Touadéra governs today with the support of a large UN peacekeeping operation. But most of the country is controlled by ex-rebels and militias, many of them claiming to act as guardians for their Muslim or Christian communities.
“It is inadmissible that people put up barricades and prevent people from circulating,” said Vladimir Monteiro, spokesman for the UN mission in CAR known by its French acronym MINUSCA.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said medical evacuations had been seriously hampered.
“We are very worried by the lack of respect shown to medical missions,” said ICRC country director Jean-François Sangsue.
“On Monday morning, we tried to evacuate 17 people who needed to be admitted in hospital but it was impossible,” he said.
They were finally evacuated days later in health ministry ambulances escorted by MINUSCA vehicles. Four of the 17 had however died of their wounds due to lack of treatment.
Barricades have mushroomed between PK5 and outlying areas like Petevo which is four kilometres away.
“On Sunday, there were nearly 10 barricades. One can go on foot but cars are prohibited from circulating. Youths are smashing the windows of passing cars,” said a security official.
“At Kpéténé there are Muslim snipers firing on Christians from behind trees,” he said.