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Expert says aid is vital in CAR

16 May 2014

REUTERS

Bundled up: women flee after sectarian incidents near Grimari, in the Central African Republic, on Wednesday of last week

Bundled up: women flee after sectarian incidents near Grimari, in the Central African Republic, on Wednesday of last week

IN THE week in which a French photojournalist was killed covering the continuing conflict in the Central African Republic, a humanitarian specialist has said that it is vital the violence does not stop the delivery of crucial aid.

The body of Camille Lepage, a 26-year-old photographer whose pictures from the CAR had been widely published, was found by a French army patrol in the Bouar region, French presidential officials said on Tuesday.

Serena Badenhorst, a team leader of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) who in the CAR, said on Wednesday that her team was working in the same region, and that the area remained hazardous. LWF are the CAR partner of Christian Aid.

"It's still a dangerous environment to work in," she said. "We take a lot of security precautions. The humanitarian community does its best to keep our staff safe, but it is never an entirely secure environment."

Fighting broke out in the predominantly Christian country after a coup by mainly Muslim rebels, known as the Seleka, in March 2013.

Ms Badenhorst said that the main humanitarian needs were shelter, sanitation, and food. "We also are helping with livelihoods, which helps address the food needs, but with the longer term for development. In addition, there is a huge need for psychosocial support across the population, which is extremely traumatised."

This psychosocial support involved counselling, but there were not many professionally trained counsellors in the region, she said. "LWF is trying to help health-care workers to recognise when people are traumatised, and refer them for appropriate help. We are also helping communities to discuss what they have been through."

Providing ways to deal with the "unimaginable trauma" faced by many people in the CAR was vital, Ms Badenhorst said.

The interim government, under President Catherine Samba-Panza, has failed to end the fighting since taking power in January (News, 24 January). Ms Badenhorst said that although the government had expressed a desire to help co-ordinate humanitarian efforts, it was "extremely weak".

"That's a large challenge for development and peace," she said. "It is still a volatile and unpredictable situation. It is a very complicated situation, and the causes behind it are very many and diverse. It is going to be a challenge to bring long-lasting peace."

France has about 2000 peacekeepers in the CAR, and a 5000-strong African Union force is also present. But the soldiers have largely failed to stop the fighting, whichhas left thousands dead and forced up to 50,000 Muslims living in the capital of the Republic, Bangui, to flee.

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