AFRICA/CÔTE D'IVOIRE - Thousands of refugees along no man’s land between rebels and army troops helped only by missionaries

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Bahiakro (Fides Service)- “It is easy to talk about stalemate in Côte d'Ivoire while sitting at an international meeting. It is not so easy when you are faced with thousands of women and children fleeing violence” a missionary in Bahiakro central northern town Côte d'Ivoire told Fides. Bahiakro is in on the line which separates territory under control of the government troops from the north under the New Forces rebels.
“Our parish in is the government controlled zone but the mission includes villages in the rebel area and the villagers have fled for safety to government areas” the missionary told Fides. (see Fides 14 December 2004). “They fled as they were, carrying nothing. The rebels then stripped the homes of everything. The stolen goods were loaded on trucks and sold in local markets in Mali and Burkina Faso” the missionary said. “The refugees are mainly women and children. The woman say they have to run away otherwise the younger ones are made to act as ‘wives’ and the older ones as ‘slaves’ ” the missionary said. “Children are abducted and parents have to pay large sums of money to get them back alive”.
“This violence continues despite the presence in the area of international peacekeepers unable to protect civilians” the sources told Fides. “Anarchy and force reign. Crime has increased since rebels opened prisons” the missionary recalled.
Since September 2002 Côte d'Ivoire has been divided in two parts with the north in the hands of the New Forces rebels. “We had just managed to settle refugees from 2002 finding them work to do when a new wave of homeless peoples arrived came in November 2004” the missionary told Fides. “These people have nothing except for a little rice sent by international humanitarian agencies every two months”. The only ones providing assistance for refugees in and around Bahiakro are Catholic missionaries. “It is not easy but at least we have started school lessons for the children” the missionary said. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 2/2/2005 righe 34 parole 430)