GENEVA— The U.N. World Food Program says it has received confirmation that its warehouses in three rebel-held cities in the Central African Republic have been looted.
A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Elizabeth Byrs, tells VOA her agency has just learned that hundreds of tons of food aid have been stolen from WFP warehouses across the country.
“In the three rebel-held cities -- Bambari, Bria and Kgabandoro -- we have confirmation that the food is lost and also that our office and the guesthouse where the staff was located had been attacked and looted,” said Byrs.
Byrs says the looting took place after WFP suspended humanitarian operations in the CAR late last month because of the deteriorating security situation. Rebels began an offensive against the government on December 10 and have moved to within 100 kilometers of the capital, Bangui.
All WFP staff, as well as other U.N. agencies personnel, was evacuated to Cameroon on December 26 and 29 for their safety.
Byrs says it is impossible to confirm right now whether WFP’s other sub-offices and warehouses also have been looted. But, she adds so far there has been no attack on the warehouse in the capital, which holds about 1,000 tons of food. That is enough to feed some 300,000 people for one week.
Byrs says WFP is ready to resume its humanitarian operation throughout the CAR as soon as the security situation allows. She says the agency is waiting to learn the outcome of a U.N. security assessment, which is currently underway in Bangui.
“Humanitarian partners are preparing to deploy an assessment team under the UNICEF-led rapid response mechanism in the conflict-affected areas,” said Byrs. "We still need the green light for this rapid assessment. It is expected to take place this week and it will be followed by another more in-depth inter-agency assessment provided that the rebels and the government allow humanitarian access to this area.”
Byrs says WFP is currently unable to send any of its national staff remaining in the CAR to rebel-held areas for safety reasons. She says WFP also has not been able to fly food and other relief items to any of these destinations.
She notes many regions in the CAR are inaccessible because of very poor roads, so U.N. humanitarian flights are the only means of access to those areas.