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Food on Hold, Ex-Rebels in Bangui Face Bleak Future

FILE - A man reacts in the RDOT camp in Kilometre 11 (PK11), where some of the last remaining ex-Seleka fighters are sheltering, guarded by African Union and French peacekeeping forces in the capital Bangui, March 14, 2014.

Ex-rebels in the Central African Republic have been threatening to blow themselves up to protest a government attempt to relocate them from camps in the capital, Bangui. The rebels are under pressure to move - an international aid agency says their food supply has been put on hold while talks about their relocation continue.

Tensions are running high in the streets of Bangui around two camps containing ex-rebels, as negotiations over their future drag on.

Peacekeepers from the United Nations mission MINUSCA have deployed to the area to prevent clashes between the ex-Seleka rebels inside the camps and anti-Balaka militia outside.

Adding to the tension, two young ex-Seleka told local radio that a government offer to pay ex-rebels $25 each to get out of the camps was not enough. They said the fighters wanted $500 each - and if they didn’t get it they would blow up an ammunition dump in one of the camps, potentially killing many people living around it as well as its inmates. So far that threat has not been acted on.

Officially there are still about 2,000 ex-rebels living at the two camps, although some aid workers say the actual number is only 1,000. They have been there since January when most of the ex-Seleka were forced out of the city.

Program on hold

Last week a government program to feed these rebels came to a halt, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the agency implementing that program.

"The situation is we were requested by our partners, MINUSCA and the government, to put the program on hold until further notice because of a security incident a few days ago," said Mario Tavolai who is IOM’s manager of the program.

IOM says the ex-rebels have been receiving food since early this year when they agreed that they would disarm and move out of the camp in due course.

"The precondition for receiving food is that they should participate in the program, in other words they have accepted disarmament and they have accepted to be relocated voluntarily to the destination of their own choice," he said.

But prospects outside the camps look particularly bleak for this group of ex-Seleka, according to some aid workers, who say that these ex-rebels are unlike the rest of the movement who were mostly Muslims from outside Bangui.

Thierry Dumont is the C.A.R. coordinator of the medical aid group Doctors without Borders.

"The Seleka now in Bangui are people who have nowhere else to go. They might be from Bangui, so they want to stay in Bangui, or they might be Christians and don’t want to be sent back to an area where Muslims might be a majority," he said.

'Nowhere to go'

Although the Seleka has been painted as a Muslim movement, at its height nearly half of its followers were Christians. Most people in Christian communities now see these people as traitors, so their camps may be the safest place for them, especially if they have no money.

"These guys they have nowhere to go. Every week we hear about a Seleka going out from the camp to get food or whatever and these guys are just killed. They are assassinated. They have no money, no transport, so they have no way to go out," said Dumont.

Dumont adds that it would not be sensible to send them back to ex-Seleka controlled areas, where they would probably re-enlist in the movement, while giving them large amounts of money will just incite the anti-Balaka to demand money as well.

Last week the government reportedly gave them $10,000, enough to buy them food for a few days. The International Organization for Migration says it hopes at least part of the program for the ex-rebels can be resumed.