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Last Updated: Friday, 9 March 2007, 13:11 GMT
CAR refugees flee 'northern terror'
By Stephanie Hancock
BBC News, Bekoninga

The small sleepy outpost of Bekoninga in southern Chad has become a haven for terrified refugees fleeing neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR).

Recently arrived refugees from CAR sit under a mango tree
Children are often kidnapped and ransomed for $4,000

Thousands of people have passed through here since trouble began back in CAR four years ago.

Many have walked for days through dense forests to reach safety: all arrive hungry and scared.

"Things are not good for us," says Bekoninga village chief Mbaisibu Bernard.

"The refugees arrive with nothing. It's us who must give them food and water, and find somewhere for them to sleep. We hardly have any food ourselves - just a few sacks of millet and some peanuts. But we must share this with the refugees."

Everyone in the village has fled. Some came here to Chad; others are still hiding in the bush somewhere
Djindou Christophe

A few yards away, Amadou Ahi is crouched by a mango tree, surrounded by his two wives and 10 children.

They look exhausted, and have been sleeping under this tree since they arrived in Bekoninga several days ago.

"I fled war," Mr Ahi says. "Bandits came to steal our cattle. They tied up the adults, and then they kidnapped our children and took them into the bush.

"They were abused. If we did not hand over all our food and cattle, they would have killed them. We feared they would kill us all."

Mr Ahi and his family are soon loaded on to a truck, and we watch as they are driven to safety in a nearby refugee camp.

Sons shot

Almost 50,000 other refugees like Amadou are now living in camps in southern Chad.


Those who have escaped describe how law and order in the north of CAR has completely broken down.

Ever since President Francois Bozize took power in 2003, his government forces have been engaged in a low-level war with rebels who are trying to overthrow him.

Refugees say both rebels and government soldiers are attacking unarmed civilians.

"The government forces came looking for men to kill," said Djingarom Hortence, who fled CAR after her three sons were shot dead in a market last year.

"It was soldiers sent from Bangui [CAR's capital]. Our previous president, Ange-Felix Patasse was one of us - a Kaba from the north. But the new president is not," she says.

"He sends his soldiers to target the Kaba, he thinks we're all rebels. I'm angry. The president is targeting our population."

But other people blame the rebellion for the insecurity.

"We left because of rebels," said Djindou Christophe, a 26-year-old student who fled his village of Bemal just two weeks ago.

"They came and used force to steal all our food. There were many - about 50. They all had guns. Everyone in the village has fled. Some came here to Chad; others are still hiding in the bush somewhere."

Power vacuum

Nobody - least of all the government - appears to be in control, and for civilians stuck in the middle it is a lethal situation.

A refugee in Dosseye Refugee Camp
Refugees say terror is spread by rebels and government soldiers

The power vacuum has allowed a wave of child kidnappings to take place unchecked.

Many families have had two, three, or even four children held to ransom. The sums demanded are astronomical: sometimes as much as $4,000.

"Bandits took my son hostage," says Issa Adamou, another new refugee.

"They kept him in the bush for 30 days. Finally I sold all of my cows - more than 50 of them - to pay 1,500,000 CFA ($3,000) and they gave him back.

"I'm finished now, I have no hope of returning. I've lost everything."

Aid workers say the situation in northern CAR is spiralling out of control. Every day, there are new arrivals from CAR and refugees warn more are following in the forests behind them.

"Generally this part of the CAR is not under the control of the government; there's anarchy and a lot of insecurity," said Vladimir Mijovic of the UN refugee agency in southern Chad.

"This population is so traumatised they cannot distinguish between rebels, bandits and soldiers. Most wear no uniforms - they just know that there was shooting, looting, women raped, children kidnapped."

"We're struggling," he adds. "We expect a couple of thousand more refugees by the end of 2007, but then again it might be another 10,000. We have very limited resources."

Country profile: Central African Republic
18 Aug 05 |  Country profiles

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