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CAR With the “Most Abandoned People,” Says Mia Farrow

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2014 (IPS) - “I came away thinking that the people of the Central African Republic (CAR) were surely the most abandoned people on earth,” said Mia Farrow.

The Hollywood actress, one of UNICEF’s first Goodwill Ambassadors, addressed the media at a press briefing Tuesday, on her recent trip to CAR and her concerns about the severe humanitarian crisis afflicting the country.

She had visited CAR twice before – in 2007 and 2008.

CAR is one of the world’s poorest countries, plagued by decades of political turmoil. Despite being engulfed in extreme violence and chaos, the conflict-torn nation is one the international community has paid least attention to. Observers have likened the current situation in the country to genocide.

On her trip in 2013, Farrow talked of the fragility of the situation in Bangui, and the ethnic cleansing that had taken place. “Nobody was safe. By the time I came back in June-early July, the town of Bossangoa had been cleansed of the entire Muslim population.”

Religious tensions have been brewing in the country between minority Muslims and Christians since the March 2013 ouster of President Francois Bozize and subsequent capture of Bangui by the Seleka rebel coalition.

The current absence of governance in CAR is described by Farrow as an “open invitation to any kind of extreme groups,” and the country is seeing an influx of armed militants from politically unstable countries such as Libya, adding to the onslaught of bloodshed by both sides.

Despite this, Farrow is against the notion that the situation in CAR is a religious conflict. “A country like CAR is able to be trained and used as [extreme groups] wish. That doesn’t make it a religious conflict. It means people of two different faiths have lined up on different lines. It is a sense of otherness.”

She talked of the precise division in which the country’s Muslims and Christians live by, and the immense anger felt on both sides. However, the explosion of violence has blurred these lines, as Christian militias that form the Anti-balaka group have been reported to be killing, raping and robbing Christian civilians as well.

In two clinics she visited – one Christian, the other, Muslim – Farrow met two young mothers, both teenagers uncertain and fearful of their children’s future. One of them had travelled a whole day in the forest, carrying her baby on her shoulders and crossing the river.

“There was no clean water where she was, nothing to eat but leaves, and her baby was dying. As soon as the baby was strong enough, she was going to cross that river and go back.” The young mother was certain staying in the area would result in their deaths.

Around 2.3 million people is said to have been displaced by the conflict, and up to 10,000 children recruited by armed militias on both sides. “It’s the children you worry about the most. The fear in the faces of women and children is something you can never forget,” said Farrow.

On the work of the United Nations and other international humanitarian agencies in CAR, the actress noted their increased presence and voiced her appreciation for the French troops that have been striving to restore order in the country.

“Where I saw the troops in action, they absolutely made it better,” she said. “There aren’t enough of them and they can’t cover enough ground but tens of thousands of people would be dead had they not been there.”

The French mission in the CAR has been extended till the end of the year, and 12,000 U.N. soldiers are to be deployed in September.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged the people of CAR to seize the opportunity of the three-day Brazzaville peace talks taking place in the Republic of Congo to pave the way towards reconciliation.

Farrow reiterated the urgency of the situation in CAR and called for peace in order for its people to live even a semblance of ordinary lives.

“I wish for the cessation of the violence in CAR so that people can reclaim the tatters of their lives and rebuild. This kind of destruction will take time. There’s been too much killing. Maybe all will be forgotten in a month or a year. But I want to see the road towards peace.”

 
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