Citing what it calls credible reports that rebels and pro-government militias are recruiting children as conflict nears, Bangui, capital of Central African Republic, the United Nations Children's Fund is urging all groups in the region to stop involving children and protect them from violence.
Years of sporadic, ongoing conflict between the C.A.R. government and rebels was reignited in mid-December when rebels accused President Francois Bozize of failing to abide by 2007 peace agreements. While government authorities have indicated a willingness to negotiate, President Bozize has said he wants to remain through the end of his term in 2016.
Positioned less than 200 kilometers from Bangui, rebel forces have captured major towns in central and eastern regions of the country, and UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says her agency and its partners are working to monitor, verify and respond to these and other grave violations of child rights.
“Those at greater risk are children who have lost their homes, are separated from their families or were formerly associated with armed groups," she said. "Even before the conflict erupted in December 2012, about 2,500 children — both boys and girls — were associated with multiple armed groups in the Central African Republic. It is impossible at this stage to give precise figures, but the reports from our partners indicate that this number will rise because of the recent escalating conflict."
The United Nations has condemned the fighting and expressed concern about the safety of an estimated 360,000 civilians living in the affected areas. It is also calling for protection of some 700,000 people that are at risk in the capital.
Mercado says the security situation is also hampering delivery of humanitarian assistance to affected communities, and that UNICEF has moved 14 international staff and consultants out of the country in the last week.
The agency has also established an operational crisis center for the C.A.R. in Yaounde, Cameroon.