Child soldiers in CAR nearly double
22 November 2013, 20:58
Geneva - Up to 6 000 children have been enrolled by warring militias in the Central African Republic, a senior UN official said on Friday, issuing a stark warning about the country's spiralling crisis.
"Roughly today, we're talking about 5 000-6 000 children, so the number has roughly doubled from our previous estimate," made in March, said Souleymane Diabate, Unicef's country representative in the CAR.
The UN children's agency has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the way in which youngsters are being forced into the raft of armed groups in the conflict-ravaged country.
The CAR has been plagued by instability since a coup by Seleka, a rebel coalition which ousted long serving president Francois Bozize in March.
A Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia, named himself president but agreed to hold elections next year after a political transition.
Djotodia has officially disbanded the rebel force but its fighters have continued to stage attacks and robberies. Armed gangs, mainly former Seleka loyalists, now dominate outside the capital Bangui.
Rival self-defence militias formed to protect local communities have been infiltrated by members of Bozize's former presidential guards who have provided them with heavy weapons, raising the stakes, Diabate said.
The CAR is 80% Christian, but the rebels emerged from the Muslim minority clustered in the north near the borders of Chad and Sudan.
Communal tensions have spiked as clashes take on an increasingly ethnic and religious nature in the nation of five million, leading aid officials and foreign governments to raise the spectre of genocide.
"The situation we face in the Central African Republic will be very, very serious if the international community doesn't mobilise to stem it," warned Diabate, in the wake of similar statements from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, the United States and former colonial power France.
On top of the violence, a humanitarian crisis is growing in what was already one of the poorest countries in the world, where conflict and misrule have hampered the development of considerable gold, diamond and uranium resources.
"What is going on right now in the CAR is tragic. We're talking about 4.6 million people affected by the crisis," said Diabate.
"Half of this population is less than 18 years old. And before the crisis, the situation was not good at all, and it has worsened since," he added.
African nations have deployed some 2 500 troops to the country in a peacekeeping force which is due to increase to 4 500 strong, but diplomats and many officials say it cannot cope with the anarchy and that UN peacekeepers may be needed.