28 February 2008


28 February 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Although many of its trials and tribulations were indigenous, with neighbours like Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic was in the heart of a very rough neighbourhood, Toby Lanzer, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Central African Republic said today at Headquarters.

Updating correspondents on the humanitarian situation in that country, he said that, in the internal situation, the United Nations was playing a key role, among others through its Special Representative of the Secretary-General, to get the Government and factions together.  Progress was being made towards an inclusive national dialogue in the summer.

Apart from the internal troubles, the north-eastern part the country was used by rebel groups as a transit route from one neighbouring country into another neighbouring country; as a place to rest and to recuperate; and as a launching pad for operations in Chad and the Sudan.  As a result, 300,000 people had been uprooted, of whom some 100,000 had fled to Darfur and to Cameroon, he said. 

Gender-based violence in the north of the country had increased, he said.  It was now estimated that 15 per cent of the women and girls had been sexually abused over the past months.  The violence was perpetrated overwhelmingly by rebels and bandits.  Through its presence at eight locations and its cooperation with an increasing number of non-governmental organizations, the United Nations had been able to offer “protection by presence”.

He said the United Nations, together with some 300 non-governmental organizations, was trying to address the humanitarian consequences of the displaced by providing protection, water and education in “bush schools” for some 75,000 children, who were also being fed and inoculated.  The humanitarian appeal for 2008 was $92 million, of which $32 million was needed fast to implement priority projects.  Ten per cent of the appeal had been pledged in the first weeks of the year.  He was visiting capitals to pitch the appeal as good not only for the people needing support, but also for the stabilization of the country, which was in everybody’s interest.

Addressing the matter of security sector reform, he said it was difficult for a poor country wedged into Africa’s trouble spots to maintain stability without functioning security institutions.  Advances in security sector reform were being made, thanks, among others, to France, and the Government would present its programme for security sector reform in April.

Answering correspondents’ questions about the displaced persons, he said people often fled into the bush, some 500 to 1,000 yards from their villages.  The United Nations preferred not to put people in camps, but to find other solutions.  It was providing shelter, health care and clean water, as well as the “bush schools” -– simple huts with thatched roofs -– for primary education.  If the internal situation improved over the summer because of the all inclusive national dialogue, many could return home.

Asked about a report that the rebel group APRD (the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy) had stated that, unless former President Ange-Félixe Patassé could return to the country, the inclusive dialogue should take place outside the country, Mr. Lanzer said there were ongoing efforts to engage APRD, one of the three rebel groups in the country that had not yet decided to participate in the preparations for the all inclusive dialogue.  He knew that, in the past, people had been welcomed back.  The question if that would be the case with ex-President Patassé should be put to the Government. 

The International Criminal Court was reviewing crimes committed during a certain period in the Central African Republic, but, if it found evidence of crimes committed in other times, it would certainly pursue evidence, he said to another question.

Asked about the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Central African Republic, he said he had not been able to confirm reports that members of LRA had been sighted in the country.  As for whether the Government would execute the arrest warrants the International Criminal Court had issued against certain LRA members if they were found in the Central African Republic, that was a question that should be put to the Government itself.

About 15 per cent of the total EUFOR [European Union-led peacekeeping force] force would be stationed in the north-east of the Central African Republic, he answered to another question.  That came down to some 400 troops with supporting civilian staff.  The force could help stabilize the area, which was reason why he had strongly lobbied for their presence.  It sent an important signal to the civilians in the area that the international community was supporting them.  It also sent a useful signal to member States of the European Union that this was a part of the world that increasingly needed the concerted action of the international community.  He hoped EUFOR would make a real difference in terms of protecting civilians and helping organizations working in that part of the world.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.