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UN: CAR on Verge of Humanitarian Disaster

The United Nations says years of violence in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR) is having a disastrous effect on the people there, especially its children. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Central African Republic, Toby Lanzer, says about 1 million people, a fourth of the country's population, has been hit by wave after wave of violence.

Lanzer, speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters in Geneva, says what is occurring in the northern part of the CAR is very similar to what is happening in Darfur.

"Violence which has resulted in one-third of women having been raped. Violence,which has resulted in over 100 villages having been torched during the last couple of months. And, this is exactly the same number which has been torched during the last six months of 2006," he noted.

Violence in the Central African Republic is nothing new. It has been marked for years by coups and counter-coups that are usually led by the losing candidate for president. President Ange-Felix Patasse survived a coup attempt in May 2001, but two years later, in March 2003, he was overthrown by General Francois Bozize. After two years of military rule, presidential elections were held and in May 2005, Bozize won in what international monitors call a free and fair election, but rebels based in the northern part of the country continue to oppose his rule.

Official figures put the number of internally displaced people in the Central African Republic at about 200-thousand. Another 70-thousand people have fled to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. The U.N. estimates more than one million people, including 600-thousand children under five, are vulnerable to disease, malnutrition and insecurity.

Lanzer says the violence in the northwest appears to be spreading to the northeast, where he says recent reports say some 10,000 people have fled from their villages.

According to the U.N. official, other parts of the CAR appears to be fairly stable. The country has a legitimate head of state and its economy is improving. A sign of this, Lanzer says, is that the government has been able to repay its debts to the World Bank and the African Development Bank. But all this good news, he adds, is undermined by violence in the north, and he fears it could spread to other parts of the CAR, as well as neighboring countries.

"This tension in the north perpetrated by internal factors, but fueled to a large extent by external conditions is a very serious de-stabilizer, not only for the Central African Republic, but fast becoming a de-stabilizer for the entire sub-region," he added. "Chad to the North, Sudan to the East, DRC to the South. It is a rough neighborhood."

Lanzer says the CAR can be stabilized if the international community engages constructively in the country's development.

He says $50 million is needed. He says the United Nations needs cash so it can provide shelter for people who are living in the bush in very cold weather.

He says money is needed for soap, for blankets, for cooking utensils. He says money is needed to provide people with seeds and tools so they can begin planting and not miss another harvest.