Document - Central African Republic: Masked bandits run riot in Central African Republic (Web feature)
Amnesty International Web
AI Index: AFR
Date: 19 September
Masked bandits run riot in
Central African Republic
Gangs of armed bandits are
terrorizing the population of the Central African Republic (CAR) as
the region is swamped by violence and lawlessness.
The masked outlaws - known
locally as "Zaraguinas"
route) - have become stronger
and better organized than government forces, leaving local people
increasingly vulnerable to grave human rights
"Zaraguinas are often better
equipped with automatic weapons and have better knowledge of the
terrain than government forces," said Erwin van der Borght,
Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme. "This is
coupled with an already dire situation of fighting between
government forces and armed political groups."
If the turmoil in northern
CAR continues unchecked, it will have severe consequences for
neighbouring countries in the region, such as Sudan, Chad and
Cameroon. The UN Security Council must immediately authorize the
deployment of international troops to the CAR with a mandate to
protect civilians, who are at serious risk of attacks and
Most victims of abduction
have been young Mbororo children, who live mainly in north-western
CAR but also in Chad, Cameroon and some West African countries.
They are targeted because their families - nomadic cattle keepers -
can sell cattle to raise hefty ransoms. Zaraguinas target these
children for as long as their parents and relatives have cows to
sell. Some child abductees are reported to have been killed by the
bandits after their families failed to pay ransoms.
Victims believe many
Zaraguinas are local people. They speak local languages and appear
to know how many cattle and other possessions their targets own.
Zaraguinas usually cover their faces with turbans so as not to be
recognized. Other bandits - attracted by the vacuum of authority in
the area - are reported to be coming into northern CAR from as far
away as West Africa to join the Zaraguinas.
Many abductees told Amnesty
International that security forces and government officials make no
attempt to prevent abductions or arrest Zaraguinas. In the rare
cases that they do, the bandits have more firepower and easily beat
off any pursuit.
"By its inaction, the
government is failing the people legally under its care," said van
der Borght. "It is time for the government and the international
community to take strong, concerted action. Any further delays are
likely to have catastrophic consequences for the entire
Adamou Bi Babayo, 56, a
member of the Mbororo ethnic group, told Amnesty International that
his children had been kidnapped more than six times. His
18-year-old daughter, Fadimatou Adamou, was kidnapped from a cattle
keepers’ camp in June 2006. The Zaraguinas held Fadimatou for one
month before Babayo was able to borrow FCFA 1.5 million (US$3,000)
to pay for his daughter’s release.
daughter, Loussoufa, was then kidnapped at night from her bed. The
Zaraguinas held her for 35 days before Babayo was able to borrow
and pay FCFA 1 million for her
Bakari Adamou, Babayo's
22-year-old son, was next to be abducted while he was looking after
cattle. The abductors initially demanded a ransom of FCFA 1 million
but they accepted FCFA 700,000, which Babayo paid after Bakari had
been held for 13 days.
Babayo’s three other children
were abducted in 2003, 2004 and 2005 but managed to escape when the
Zaraguinas fell asleep after taking drugs and alcohol.
Babayo said he informed a
local military commander about the abductions on several occasions,
but each time the commander had refused to pursue the Zaraguinas.
Babayo added that government soldiers kept to the main roads and
never attempted to pursue or arrest the Zaraguinas or free the
victims of abduction.
On 26 May 2007, seven United
Nations workers were attacked by Zaraguinas near Sibut town.
Victims say they were ill-treated and had clothes and money stolen
by the bandits.
On 19 May 2007, two workers
from Italian humanitarian organization, COOPI
Internazionale), were abducted by
Zaraguinas on the road between Bozoum and Bocaranga. They were
released on 29 May.