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Disinformation Campaign Against IOM In CAR Endangers Staff

FILE - French peacekeeping soldiers, center right, patrol the city of Bangui, Central African Republic, Sept. 30, 2015.

The International Organization for Migration said it is the target of a disinformation campaign in war-torn Central African Republic.

The International Organization for Migration said a defamation campaign in Central African Republic has been going on since its headquarters in the capital, Bangui, was attacked more than one week ago. It said the IOM office was extensively ransacked and aid intended for thousands of people sheltered in displacement camps was stolen.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said while the looting was taking place, reports began surfacing in the international and social media claiming IOM was harboring weapons. He said these media reports also accused IOM of taking sides in the sectarian violence.

“We want to point out that there were never any weapons, any offensive weapons in our headquarters in Bangui; but, there were approximately 35 self-protection kits, I believe. Those are a couple of armored vests and helmets that a lot of international aid agencies keep on hand. Thirty-five have gone missing. We presume they are with the looters,” said Millman.

The September 27 attack on IOM headquarters followed the murder of a young Muslim man in Bangui the previous day. That killing triggered a resurgence of widespread ethnic and religious fighting in Central African Republic. Dozens of people were left dead and scores injured.

Millman told VOA he does not know who is behind the disinformation campaign, but that it has a lot to do with what he calls religious competition.

“The violence started with the rumor about the pedicab driver who was murdered. And, that triggered a rampage against Christian neighborhoods. I can only speculate that whoever is involved in that violence sees their opposite religious group as in our pocket,” he said.

Millman said these false rumors must be squashed immediately before they gain a kind of legitimacy. He said they are putting IOM staff in the country in danger.