DOUALA, CAMEROON - Truck drivers in Cameroon are again refusing to transport goods and humanitarian aid to the troubled Central African Republic (C.A.R.), following repeated attacks by armed militias based in the neighboring war-torn country.
The Union of Truck Drivers in Cameroon, which operates along the Douala-Bangui corridor, initiated the strike on Thursday in order to condemn the ongoing harassment. This week's strike comes little more than a year after truck deliveries were halted after three drivers were killed in June 2014.
Landlocked C.A.R. depends on supplies exclusively from Cameroon's seaport city of Douala, where officials have begun negotiating with frightened drivers.
According to El Hadj Oumarou, president of the drivers' union, aid-laden convoys have been repeatedly targeted by suspected Seleka rebels within the past two weeks. Eleven truck drivers have been killed and two are missing, he said, adding that it appears to be only Cameroonian drivers that are targeted by the well-armed groups.
Ibrahim Yaya, president of a C.A.R.-based truckers association, whose drivers who also ply the Douala-Bangui corridor, says at least a dozen colleagues have been hospitalized for wounds inflicted by violent groups, who often destroy the trucks before leaving.
C.A.R. descended into violence and chaos in March 2013 when Muslim-backed Seleka militants seized the capital, Bangui. President Francois Bozize fled to Cameroon, and Michel Djotodia, who had been one of the Seleka leaders, made himself president. The Christian anti-Balakas soon retaliated.
Since France sent 1,600 troops into CAR under a United Nations mandate, humanitarian aid for displaced populations began flowing through the Douala seaport for transport by road.
Nchechuma Banla, media officer at the Douala seaport, said the volume of C.A.R.-bound goods has only increased, creating a massive backup if shipping containers. The latest strike, he says, is likely to make things worse.
"The situation in the Republic of Central Africa has induced a lot of importations. We published a list of 2,502 containers that have been abandoned at the port for more than three months and subsequently we will publish the list of those who have abandoned rice and other goods," he said. "The port is supposed to be a transit point, not a warehouse."
Elias Sylvian, C.A.R.'s director general of transport, was recently dispatched to Douala to negotiate with the drivers. While initial meetings have addressed new security measures, enforcement will require concerted efforts on part of both governments and the United Nations.
Oumarou, the union chief, said truckers want the U.N. to allow its peacekeeping troops to escort trucks along the corridor.
"The United Nations, which is very much present in the C.A.R., should look for the means to assure the security and safety of goods and drivers," he said.
Ninety percent of the C.A.R.'s imports and exports transit through Douala. The truckers say most of the attacks are carried out between the Cameroonian border town of Garoua-Boulaye and C.A.R.'s capital, Bangui.