Bangui - Hospitals in the coup-hit capital of the Central African Republic overflowed with injured people on Thursday and tens of thousands faced hunger as the humanitarian situation in the country worsened just days after rebels seized power.
Drinking water and electrical power were still cut off in parts of Bangui as Michel Djotodia and his Seleka rebel coalition struggled to restore order to the capital they seized on Sunday, forcing president Francois Bozize to flee the country.
Bozize, who himself came to power in a coup in 2003, fled to Cameroon and has since sought asylum in Benin, according to Cameroon's foreign minister Arifari Bako.
The United Nations warned tens of thousands of people in the impoverished and notoriously unstable country faced severe food shortages after a looting rampage.
“The crisis has worsened an already difficult humanitarian situation,” the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned in a statement.
In Bangui, “prevailing insecurity is hampering humanitarian efforts and the provision of help and notably medical assistance”, OCHA said.
The situation in the northern and central regions was “particularly worrying”, the UN said, where “more than 80 000 people are in danger” of running out of food.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, warned of a “catastrophic situation in hospitals” in Bangui.
“The corridors of the community hospital in Bangui are overflowing with injured people, and the medical staff cannot deal with emergencies anymore,” it said.
“As with the rest of the city, hospitals are lacking in running water, a continuous electricity supply and soon fuel.”
OCHA said that more than 5 000 people had taken refuge in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo since the weekend.
A French diplomatic source told AFP that an Air France flight with 260 passengers, “essentially French but also EU nationals and dual-nationals,” left Bangui on Thursday morning. The source added that the people paid their own way as France has not ordered an evacuation.
Seleka spokesperson Christophe Gazam Betty pledged on Thursday after a meeting with Djotodia and senior officers of both the rebel fighters and the security forces that normal life would resume by early next week.
“We are going to relaunch economic and administrative life by Tuesday at the latest,” Gazam Betty said, adding that “the president” Djotodia had urged army and police units to work with rebels to reopen service stations and provide security at banks.
Residents in the capital were still fearful of returning to work after days of looting and confusion, despite a call by Djotodia for people to do so.
Rebels from Seleka - which means “alliance” - were seeking to restore security by patrolling with the help of the regional FOMAC military force deployed in the country by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
In a sign that rebels were seeking to maintain some political stability, Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye - who was named premier under peace accords signed in Gabon's capital Libreville in January - said on Wednesday he had been re-appointed. A new government is now expected to be formed.
According to Tiangaye, a respected lawyer and former human rights activist who was a foe of Bozize, people pretending to be with the Seleka were causing trouble.
“Many people, false Seleka members, are at large in the town terrorising the population and bandits have become mixed up in it, and this therefore only worsens the situation,” he said.
Meanwhile President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad, who currently chairs ECCAS, announced Thursday that a regional summit on the crisis will be held on April 3 in N'Djamena, according to Chadian national radio.
Djotodia, an enigmatic Soviet-trained figure who spent years as a civil servant and diplomat before founding a rebel movement in 2005, has dissolved parliament and announced he will rule by decree.
He has stressed he would abide by the spirit of national unity enshrined in the January Libreville deal signed after a first rebel offensive.
The Seleka forces seized Bangui on Sunday and ousted Bozize on the grounds that his regime had failed to honour that peace agreement.