Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Displaced villagers struggle to survive after CAR rebellion

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , OTAH, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Every year, Robert Dourmadji would set aside some of his grain for seed, resisting the temptation to feed his wife and seven children with it even when times got lean as the planting season approached.

This year, though, he had no choice: Pushed from their homes in a nearby village more than three months ago by a rebellion and the scorched-earth counterinsurgency tactics of their country's army, they have been living in desperate conditions.

"What can we do?" he said. "When the rains come we will really suffer."

Dourmadji and hundreds of other people came out of hiding on Friday morning to meet John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, who visited the Central African Republic on the last leg of a 10-day visit to the region.

Holmes pledged more aid to help those left homeless by the fighting here, now more than 210,000, and urged aid groups and donors to do more to help this nation, one of the poorest and most unstable in the world.

"They need urgent help before the harvest to make sure they have a harvest," Holmes said.

The crisis in the Central African Republic is now more than two years old, and the fighting has killed thousands of people and caused hundreds of thousands of the country's 4 million people to flee their homes.

Their flight has been so desperate that those who can have run across the border into their troubled neighbors' territory.

About 50,000 people from the northwest have fled into southern Chad, and thousands of residents of the northeastern town of Birao, in a perverse twist, have even fled into the Darfur region of Sudan, where a grim struggle over power, land and identity has raged since 2003.

Jean-Charles Dei, head of the World Food Program in the Central African Republic, said on Friday his organization had no food available to feed 1,700 people hiding in Otah.

UN humanitarian chief in the country Toby Lanzer said that with enough resources it would be easy to save lives.

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