Batangafo, CAR – Hundreds of internally displaced people (IDPs) from the town of Batangafo in the Central African Republic (CAR) who were sheltering for years in Bouca, some 100km (62 miles) south, have shared their stories of hardship after being forced to flee back in recent weeks amid fresh unrest in the conflict-hit country.
The CAR has struggled to find stability since 2013, when a former Seleka rebel alliance overthrew then-President Francois Bozize. Anti-balaka militias struck back, and CAR has since descended into a spiral of violence that forced hundreds of thousands from their homes and created a hotchpotch of armed groups that still control large swaths of the country.
Some of these armed groups, including those that were supposedly sworn enemies, recently teamed up to create the so-called Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) opposing the central government that is based in the capital, Bangui.
The new rebel alliance staged attacks on towns across CAR that severely disrupted a December 27 election in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera sought a second term. Last month, the country’s constitutional court confirmed Touadera’s re-election in a vote in which only 35 percent of voters have cast their ballots.
The Batangafo IDPs had been living in Bouca since 2014 but began fleeing after fighting broke out between two Anti-balaka factions – one based in Bouca and one from Batangofo that had joined the CPC and was crossing the town on its way towards Bangui. Old rivalries between the groups fuelled the events that followed.
Members of the Bouca-based group allegedly ordered the killing of the leader of the group crossing the town. The leader of the Bouca group then accused of complicity the displaced population from Batangafo who are from the Gbaya ethnic group, the same as Bozize – the former president, who sided with the CPC, has been accused by the government of plotting a coup with the rebels.
Fear of retaliation, the killing of two people and threats forced the IDPs to flee, with 467 now registered at an IDP site in Batangafo and some 1,000 others sheltering some 30km (19 miles) away from Batangafo.
“The situation is bad, as they came in a moment where subsistence means are lacking, and insecurity reigns,” says Evra Lamine, Batangafo’s sub-prefect. “They are not all accepted by the community, they are stigmatised, some have been robbed.”
Lamine met the chiefs of the neighbourhoods of Batangafo, asking for voluntary food contributions for the newly displaced, while waiting for the arrival of food aid that has been severely disrupted since the outbreak of hostilities in mid-December. NGOs have distributed tents and hygiene materials.
“The only weapon I have here is dialogue,” Lamine says.