The United Nations says rebel attacks and banditry are on the rise in central Africa, just two months before a key peacekeeping mission is scheduled to end.
The 3,000 blue-helmetted peacekeepers stationed along the arid flatlands between Chad, Sudan, and the Central African Republic are set to leave in two months, but the United Nations is concerned about what they leave behind.
Violence has staged a comeback, forcing aid agencies and local businesses to scale back their ambitions, just two years after the U.N. peacekeeping mission to the three countries promised to bring a workable calm to the borderlands.
Birao, a dusty Central African town near the point where the three countries meet is a case in point, says special representative to the area Youssef Mahmoud.
The regional capital was almost completely incinerated during attacks in 2007. Earlier this month, Mahmoud says, a mere handful of men with guns were able to slip past peacekeepers and cause devastation.
Forty to 50 men attacked Birao not far from the U.N. peacekeeping base, he says. They ransacked the town, and kidnapped 19 people. Four children were immediately released, nine were able to escape a little bit after being kidnapped, and six were able to escape during an October 11 clash. Mahmoud says the United Nations believes four are still in captivity.
The semi-arid region, far from the capitals that ostensibly govern it, is a temporary home for about 400,000 refugees from conflict in Sudan or hardship in Chad.
Beyond that extraordinary influx of refugees, the area has been destabilized by its many rebel groups, particularly the Lord's Resistance Army, Mahmoud says.
The Uganda-based militia has marched over wide swaths of east and Central Africa, raiding villages, forcing children into their ranks, and thwarting several of the region's more professional militaries.
If Central African Republic's government cannot commit a greater troop presence to this fringe area, Mahmoud says the U.N. departure will open the gates for more rebel attacks .
To avoid that kind of security vacuum after the departure of the U.N. peace-keeping missions, everything must be done to convince the government of the Central African Republic to deploy additional forces, he says.
Even without the U.N. peacekeeping mission, the coast may not be clear for the Lord's Resistance Army. Last week, the African Union announced plans to create a single anti-rebel army to chase the group across the region's vast and porous boundaries.