The United Nations is asking for $32 million in immediate humanitarian aid for the Central African Republic (CAR). The UN's humanitarian coordinator, Toby Lanzer, says the aid will help stabilize a volatile region. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the story.

Lanzer says the landlocked Central African Republic is located in a fairly rough neighborhood with Chad to the north, Sudan to the east and Congo to the south. He says the international community must recognize that an investment in the Central African Republic not only helps keep people alive, but also helps to stabilize a fragile region.


"We have certainly seen the northeast of the CAR used in the past year in three different ways," said Toby Lanzer. "One, as a transit route for rebel groups in one country trying to get to another and take a short cut by passing through CAR. Another is rebel groups going into CAR and, let's say, seeking rest and recuperation before they go on with their ways wherever they are warring. The third way is using the northeast of the CAR as a launching pad, as a staging ground of operations either in Chard or in Sudan."

Lanzer says over 300,000 people have been forced out of their homes into the bush to as a result of incursions from warring neighbors. More than 30 aid groups are working along with the United Nations to provide sanitation, shelter, food and access to health care and clean water to the displaced. The United Nations Children's Fund is running bush schools and providing vaccinations.

Lanzer says the continuation of security sector reforms in the Central African Republic is a major UN goal. Right now, he says the presence of relief groups in the north is a form of protection for those who have been uprooted from their homes. He says gender-based violence, stemming overwhelmingly from rebel groups, is particularly troubling.

"In some parts of the north of CAR we are seeing violence waged against women and girls in particular," said Lanzer. "Perhaps 15 percent of women and girls in parts of the north of CAR have been abused sexually in the past months.

The cost of the humanitarian aid operation for 2008 is $92 million. The $32 - million appeal is being launched to meet immediate needs.