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January 01, 2014

Violence Threatens Doctors Providing Aid in CAR

by Peter Cox

As violence continues in the Central African Republic, the conditions for aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders have become dangerous.  Twice in the last week, hospitals and clinics had to be evacuated when armed men entered the facilities. 

In the Central African Republic's capital of Bangui, teams with Doctors Without Borders say the violence has been escalating, despite the increased presence of French and African troops.

Instability deepened in early December when Christian militias - known as anti-Balaka - stepped up revenge attacks against Seleka rebels who helped install the country’s Muslim president in a March coup.

Communal violence has killed more than 1,000 in the last month, including children who have been brutalized.  

Doctors Without Borders facilities have felt the impact.  Sylvain Groulx, the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in the Central African Republic, said medical staff had to temporarily evacuate their facilities on December 24th and 25th - due to threats by armed men and close gunfire.  

"Essentially they have been threatening medical personnel.  They have been threatening the staff as well…. It's been very, very difficult to manage those incidents and certainly what we are requesting as a medical organization is that there is a full respect by all of the combatants or individuals within the city and that there is a full respect for our patients’ rights," Groulx said. "They are no longer combatants, they are no longer part of a community or another. They are simply patients."  

Doctors Without Borders is providing general medical care for thousands of people in Bangui and says its teams have been treating up to 20 people a day who have been injured in the violence.  

Groulx said medical volunteers are concerned with all the people they can’t reach.  "It's quite difficult, and what's worse is actually the level of insecurity has driven hundreds of thousands of people - rough estimates - approximately half of the capital city of Bangui is now living in dire and squalid conditions in camps, IDP camps in approximately 50 sites around the city," he stated.
 
On Tuesday, thousands of people flooded onto the runway of the Bangui airport, shutting down flights.  They were demanding more international aid and for the country's president to resign.