An observer group is looking for ways to restore friendly relations between cattle herders and farmers in the Central African Republic and stop the violence that has been tearing the country apart for two years.
A mission of livestock experts from a national cattle herders federation, international aid groups, and U.N. and government agencies recently visited rural areas of the country and found that nomadic and seminomadic cattle herders are generally not welcome in agricultural areas. Clashes develop when the herders come under attack, and then retaliate.
Almost inevitably, the fighting takes on religious or ethnic overtones.
Displaced people living at a camp in Bambari told VOA they had fled from the Peuls.
"We — the Christians, the Central African people — are in difficulty because the Peuls are making war on the Christians," said camp resident Yagbanga Vianney. "That’s why we have taken refuge at this site."
Most C.A.R. residents are Christians, while the Peuls, a small minority in the nation of 5 million people, are usually Muslims.
Recently, aid workers said, about 1,000 Christians have been relocating to Bambari every week to escape dangerous conditions in their home villages. The attacks on villages often seem to be reprisals for attacks on the Peuls, usually carried out by anti-balaka militia groups.
The violence around Bambari has mainly been happening along two roads leading south. They seem to be the front lines between anti-balaka militias, coming from the west, and the Peuls, who have been driven out of many grazing grounds.
A health worker at Bambari hospital who gave his name as Alex explained that the area "is occupied by Mbororo people, who are cattlemen — the Peuls — but there is an invasion" of the militas there. "That’s why all the time there is fighting on this way."
Much of Bambari is controlled by a Peul warlord, Ali Darassa, who has set up his own movement called the Union for Peace in the C.A.R., or UPC, its acronym in French.
The UPC’s spokesman, Captain Ahamat Nedjad, blamed the anti-balaka for most of the burned villages, but he acknowledged that Muslims have committed reprisals.
"Even if Muslims do sometimes burn a village," Nedjad said, "there will have been a reason, and so long as the anti-balaka don’t touch anyone there won’t be any reprisals."
A seasonal migration of cattle from north to south is now underway, and the joint mission of livestock experts warned this could lead to further violence.
The experts recommended placing peacekeepers near the Chadian border to help minimize violent incidents. They also said that providing vaccination services for cattle might persuade herders to follow recommended trails instead of allowing their livestock to roam over cultivated land — a common practice that is one of the root causes of bad relations between herders and farmers.