Bandits displace up to 100,000 in Central Africa: UN
Monday, 26 May 2008

Reuters, United Nation- The Central African Republic has been hit by an upsurge in attacks by armed bandits, with up to 100,000 people forced out of their homes fleeing such attacks, the United Nations said on Friday.

The attacks, which have escalated since early in the year, have been in the north of the former French colony, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.

A trend in recent months has seen bandits burn down whole villages, often in revenge for resistance by village self-defense groups, OCHA said.

The bandits -- typically groups of 10 to 30 armed men -- roam the northern areas of the CAR, assaulting and killing travelers and villagers, kidnapping children and adults, looting property and burning homes.

One incident in April saw bandits torch 57 out of 67 homes in Bogali, a village in the northwest of the country, OCHA said.

Of the 300,000 forced from their homes in the past several years because of conflict in the country, OCHA said up to a third fled from bandits.

CAR's history since independence from France in 1960 has been marked by brutal dictatorship, revolts and coups.

In recent years, the country's north has increasingly fallen prey to armed groups as President Francois Bozize's government has battled rebel factions and the spillover from the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

Bozize, a former army general, seized power in a coup in March 2003. He was elected president in 2005.

Despite being diamond and uranium-rich, landlocked CAR is one of the world's poorest countries with an average income of just $350 a year, according to data on the World Bank's Web site.

The United Nations estimates 1 million people in CAR have been affected by conflict, of whom 108,000 fled into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Sudan and 197,000 are internally displaced.

The country's population of 4.3 million has an average life expectancy of 44 years, according to World Bank data. A U.N. appeal for $96.8 million this year from the international community to tackle the rising insecurity so far is only 36 percent funded, OCHA said.

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