The 48-hour window for armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) to pull back from Paoua, a center of humanitarian aid for 60,000 people near the border with Chad, is set to expire.
MINUSCA, the United Nations mission in CAR, issued the ultimatum on Wednesday after weeks of violent clashes – and attacks on civilians, described by observers as barbaric – have sent the displaced into town, where they now outnumber the residents. The rapid influx has placed strain on resources, and aid workers warn that food and water are running out.
MINUSCA plans to establish a 50-kilometer perimeter around the town, and set the two-day time limit for the armed groups Justice Riot (RJ) and the National Movement for the Liberation of the Central African Republic (MNLC) to leave.
Vladimir Monteiro, a spokesman for MINUSCA, confirmed the operation to secure the perimeter around Paoua in a statement Thursday.
“Preliminary investigations by MINUSCA indicate that elements of the RJ group have intentionally attacked and killed civilians, particularly targeting Muslim and Peuhles communities,” the statement said. “In addition, the MNLC is believed to be responsible for the destruction of several villages north of Paoua, burning hundreds of homes and causing death and forced displacement of people in these areas. Many civilians are still hidden in the bush, without any assistance.”
Another 15,000 people from the Markounda area have fled into Chad, and some villages close to the border are ghost towns, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
MINUSCA warned the leaders of the armed groups, Armel Ningatoloum Sayo and Mahamat Bahar, of their command responsibility for crimes committed by those under their authority, and said MINUSCA is working with CAR officials to assist with investigations aimed at prosecution of those responsible.