Rebellion in the Northeast

In mid-2006 the authorities found themselves facing a second organized rebellion in the remote and sparsely populated northeast, bordering Darfur and eastern Chad.

The Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement, UFDR) is an alliance of three separate rebel groups: the Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (Mouvement des libérateurs Centrafricains pour la justice, MLCJ), headed by Abakar Saboune, who is the spokesperson and head of security; the Patriotic Action Group for the Liberation of Central Africa (Groupe d’action patriotique pour la libération de la Centrafrique, GAPLC), headed by Michel Détodia, now President of the UFDR; and the Central African Democratic Front (Front démocratique Centrafricain, FDC), headed by Justin Hasan, a former major in the Presidential Guard of Patassé, who is the head of UFDR’s military operations.126  The UFDR’s chief of staff is “General” Damane Zakaria, whose real name is Moustapha Maloum, also a former associate of ex-President Patassé.127  Another key leader is Faki Ahmat (“Colonel Marabout”), reportedly in charge of the UFDR’s military operations.128 Saboune and Détodia were arrested in Benin in late November 2006 and remain imprisoned there on a CAR-issued arrest warrant.129  The UFDR has been mostly active in the Vakaga prefecture, in the area around the villages of Tiroungoulou, Gordil, Mélé, and Boromota, an area mainly populated by the predominantly muslim Gula ethnic group.

The forces of the UFDR consist mainly of ethnic Gulas, who claim historic discrimination. They have made common cause with ex-libérateurs (members of Bozizé’s rebel forces who enabled his takeover in March 2003 and who now claim he betrayed his promises to them). From September to October 2006, the UFDR launched a major offensive in northeastern CAR, taking control of the towns of Birao, Ouandja, Ouanda Djallé, Ouadda, and Ndélé, in the main population centers in Vakaga, Bamingui, and Haute-Kotto prefectures. The security forces fled in the face of the offensive, leaving behind large caches of arms, military vehicles, and other equipment. In the towns they captured, UFDR rebels destroyed and looted all government offices, including the police stations and the Gendarmerie, the offices of the mayor, prefect and subprefect, the offices of the forest and water agency, and many others, further deteriorating the capacity of already weakened state institutions.

In December 2006 the French army invoked its defense treaty with CAR and helped governmental forces to retake all these towns, through a French bombing campaign and a combined FACA/French Army/FOMUC ground offensive. By late December 2006 the government was again in control of all major towns in the northeast, and the UFDR had retreated to rear bases around Tiroungoulou, Gordil, and Boromata. In March 2007 the UFDR mounted a strike on Birao, briefly taking control of the town before being repulsed by French aerial bombardment.

On April 13, 2007, “General” Damané Zakaria, the UFDR’s chief of staff, signed a peace agreement with government representatives, stating that “the time has come to make peace.”130  However, the signing of the peace accord was disavowed by the jailed leader Abakar Saboune, who promised to continue the fight.131

The conflict in the northeast has been characterized by serious abuses by both government and rebel forces, although there have been fewer village burnings and summary killings than in the northwest. CAR government forces have carried out summary executions of suspected or captured rebels and a small number of house burnings and unlawful killings of civilians. Meanwhile, UFDR rebels have fired indiscriminately at the civilian population and have looted homes, offices, and businesses during attacks on towns and villages. The rebels have carried out summary executions and forcible recruitment of child soldiers, and there are (as yet) largely unconfirmed reports of rape.

The Origins of conflict

Over a period of years, a number of issues have combined in northeast CAR to create the preconditions for rebellion and the emergence of the UFDR. These include poverty and marginalization, inter-communal tension with Sudanese nomads, human rights violations by CAR forces in response to military activity by Chadian rebels based in the northeast, and the grievances of ex-libérateurs.

Poverty, marginalization and inter-communal tension

The northeast is CAR’s most remote, sparsely populated, and poorest region. Its inhabitants claim that for years they have been neglected and forgotten by their own government. There are no paved or all-season roads, only the most basic of hospitals and medical centers, and often no doctors or medicine. Public schools are under funded, run by parents acting as teachers (maîtres parents), and in many of the more remote areas do not function at all.

In 2002 tensions between local people and Sudanese nomads, bringing herds into CAR in search of water and grazing, escalated into open conflict. Gula community leaders claim that when sustained fighting broke out around Boromata (west of Birao), the government refused to intervene to provide protection, arguing the fighting was “merely” inter-Muslim skirmishing—although a more likely reason for the government’s lack of action is that the embattled Patassé government was pre-occupied with fighting for its own survival.132 This government neglect led the local population to launch their own armed self-defense units.

The killing by Sudanese nomads of a prominent Gula spiritual leader, Yahya Ramadan on May 8, 2002, led to renewed clashes culminating in the deaths of 63 Sudanese nomads at Birao on May 17.133 Yahya Ramadan’s murder also led to increased inter-ethnic tensions in the region, with Gula community leaders accusing members of the Kara ethnic group of having instigated the killing.134 A joint Sudanese-CAR initiative to investigate the clashes soon petered out.135 However, Sudanese nomads continued to cross the border, now also in search of revenge. On July 10, 2002, Sudanese nomads killed half of the inhabitants of the village of Vodémasa, more than 50 people including women, children, and the village chief,136 and went on to attack Zinzia, Boromata, Aifa, Sikébé, and Moussabio. Yet more deadly attacks by Sudanese nomads were reported in September 2002.137 Many people died, but the CAR government of Patassé, battling its own insurgents, did not intervene.

In March 2003 Sudan agreed to provide reparations after meetings were held in the border town of Am Dafok. The mismatch in the delegations—the Sudanese had sent high level officials including three government ministers while the CAR was represented by local officials—was interpreted by local people as yet another sign of a lack of central government concern for their well-being (although, again, the government of Patassé was probably too focused on battling the soon-to-be-victorious rebels of General Bozizé to send a high-level delegation).138

Implementation of the agreement, which involved Sudanese funding for a school in Tiroungoulou, construction of a mosque to the memory of Yahya Ramadan, and compensation to the victimized communities, most of them Gulas, was fitful and incomplete. A commission created to supervise the agreement and to address security issues did not publish any report. According to local leaders, compensation funds never reached the area, and even the then-prefect of the province admitted to Human Rights Watch that he did not know what had happened to the money.139 Most Gulas believe that the money was embezzled by Bozizé after his takeover and used during his re-election campaign in May 2005.140 Workers started construction of the mosque, but work stopped in May 2005. It is a profound grievance of the Gula community that money they believed was destined for them never arrived.

This was the local situation in early 2006 when Sudanese Government supported Chadian rebels opposed to Chadian President Déby set up bases in the Gula-dominated Tiroungoulou and Gordil areas from which, in April 2006, they launched an unsuccessful offensive on N’Djamena.141 Published reports have identified two separate Chadian rebel groups based in the area: The Movement for Peace, Reconstruction and Development, (Mouvement pour la paix, la reconstruction, et le développement, MPRD), led by former Déby associate, Djibrine Dassert,142 and elements of the United Front for Change, (Front uni pour le changement, FUC), led by Adoum Rakis, who was captured in N’Djamena during the failed April 2006 offensive.143 At the time, both of these Chadian groups were associated with FUC leader Mahamat Nour.

Shortly after the failed offensive, Sudanese military planes are reported to have unloaded Chadian rebels in uniform, weapons, ammunition boxes, vehicles, and other military equipment at Tiroungoulou air strip.144 Tiroungoulou’s village chief, a Gula, went to inform government authorities of the arrival of the Chadian rebels, and a joint FACA and GP unit was sent to investigate. On May 26, the unit was attacked by “powerfully armed individuals,” and two FACA officers were killed.145

Although the CAR defense ministry accused the attackers of “deliberately violating Central African territory,” a clear suggestion that they believed the attackers to be foreigners, not CAR citizens,146 the GP unit led by Lieutenant Dogo, infamous for his alleged personal involvement in summary executions around Bangui,147 attacked Tiroungoulou, killing seven civilians and burning down 32 houses.148 Hundreds were displaced, and some later died from harsh conditions in the bush.149 The local population was outraged: they had nothing to do with the Chadian rebels or with the attack, had informed the authorities of the rebel presence, but had nevertheless been punished.150

Further fighting took place between the Chadian rebels and CAR security forces in June 2005. On June 3, a Chadian rebel attack killed a member of the CAR Parliament and two employees of the Ministry of Environmental Affairs.151 On June 26, a fierce battle broke out between the Chadian rebels and a combined FACA, GP, and FOMUC force, resulting in the deaths of 11 FACA and GP soldiers including Lieutenant Dogo, two Chadian FOMUC soldiers, and an estimated 20 rebels.152 In a speech to the nation, President Bozizé denounced the rebels as “invaders” and “foreign aggressors,”153 although some FACA officials accused Chadian and CAR rebels of having “teamed up to carry out attacks in both countries.”154

A perception has grown among both officials and the wider civilian population that the UFDR and ethnic Gulas are one and the same, and abuses by the UFDR have contributed to a sharp growth in anti-Gula sentiment. For example, an official report by the subprefecture of Ouadda, describing the three-week occupation of Ouadda by the UFDR, linked all local Gulas with the UFDR and blamed them for abuse:

The young Gula residents in Ouadda-Center linked up with their brothers in this group of rebels to mistreat all the governmental officials working in town, to commit exactions on the whole territory of the subprefecture, picked up all the medicine and the goods at the Ouadda medical center.155

Anti-Gula sentiment is threatening to spill over into ethnically-motivated violence, fear of which has led to the displacement of most of the Gula population from government-controlled towns. An estimated 60,000 people have been displaced in the three northeastern provinces affected by the insurgency.156

The grievances of ex-libérateurs

Meanwhile, a separate strand of discontent among former supporters of General Bozizé joined cause with disaffected Gulas. When General Bozizé took over power in March 2003, he arrived in Bangui with hundreds of rebels, popularly known as the “libérateurs.” These included former FACA soldiers who had deserted the national army, as well as Chadian elements. Some of these men, together with a company of about 30 Chadian soldiers, became the core of President Bozizé’s Presidential Guard. However, Bozizé could not incorporate all the ex-libérateurs into his regular security services, and tensions soon grew, with ex-libérateurs claiming that Bozizé had failed to fully pay them for their support and had reneged on other promises. Ex-libérateurs became increasingly involved in human rights abuses and banditry around Bangui, forcing Bozizé to act against their more unruly elements.157

Many of the ex-libérateurs became involved in banditry or joined nascent rebel groups in northern CAR.158  In April 2004, close to 300 mostly Chadian ex-libérateurs began violent protests in Bangui, looting homes159 and clashing with FACA forces before advancing within a few hundred meters of the Presidential Palace.160  The protests were led by Captain Abakar Saboune, an ex-libérateur who in 2005 became a founding member of the UFDR.161 President Bozizé agreed to grant each of the Chadian ex-libérateurs $1,000 in exchange for their repatriation to Chad under the supervision of FACA.162  However, many of them moved instead to northern CAR, particularly the largely Muslim northeast, where they are prominent among the leaders of the UFDR.

While the UFDR is popularly identified as a Gula-based movement, other Central African arab ethnic groups are also involved, and it is more appropriate to characterize the UFDR as a coalition involving different elements dissatisfied with Bozizé: ex-libérateurs who feel Bozizé betrayed them; loyalists of ex-President Patassé; Gulas who feel marginalized and ethnically targeted; and the larger Muslim community who feel discriminated against.163

Compared to the APRD in the northwest, the UFDR are better equipped and have a more centralized military structure. In addition to semi-automatic weapons, UFDR combatants have military uniforms, rocket propelled grenades, and heavy machine guns and artillery mounted on vehicles.164 They are also known to possess anti-aircraft guns, looted from FACA bases during the October-December 2006 offensive. The UFDR commanders claim to have the capability of sealing roads off with landmines and require all humanitarian convoys to seek prior clearance to ensure that roads are mine-free (but no mine incidents have been reported in northern CAR so far).

UFDR leaders claim that their movement is purely Central African and that they do not receive any outside support. Human Rights Watch has no evidence that the UFDR has received large amounts of military assistance from Sudan or other neighboring states. However, one CAR official captured by the UFDR in November 2006 told Human Rights Watch that while detained in Ouadda, he witnessed three uniformed Sudanese soldiers working openly with the rebels. When the UFDR was forced to abandon Ouadda in December 2006, an argument broke out between two UFDR commanders about whether to take along or execute the captured official, with one of the UFDR commanders arguing they needed the car space for the three Sudanese who “helped us organize this offensive”, and therefore deserved to be treated with respect. This raises the possibility that these Sudanese, while small in number, may have been military advisors rather than rebel recruits.165 A few witnesses also affirmed that Chadian nationals were among UFDR combatants during late 2006 attacks.166

Abuses by CAR Security Forces in the Northeast

Government forces committed serious human rights violations, including summary executions and some home burnings, following the recapture of towns and villages in late 2006, a pattern that was repeated in March 2007. Almost all of these abuses were committed against ethnic Gulas, causing the displacement of much of the Gula population from most of the towns formerly occupied by the UFDR, including Ndélé, Ouadda, Ouanda Djallé, and Birao.

Summary executions of Gulas and suspected rebels, and burning of civilian homes

Despite high inter-ethnic tensions between the Gula community and government officials in the northeast, the level of army abuses in the northeast has been much lower than in the northwest. Human Rights Watch documented a number of home burnings, mostly in Gula-dominated villages such as Ouandja, as well as some summary executions of suspected UFDR rebels in the immediate aftermath of the counteroffensive by government forces in December 2006 (assisted by French and FOMUC troops).

The potential for greater abuses certainly exists, given the “thirst” for revenge felt by many soldiers and the civilian population that suffered abuses at the hands of the UFDR. The head of a medical center in Ouadda described the state of mind of the villagers and of the CAR armed forces when the rebels evacuated the town:

When the Presidential Guard came to Ouadda, people were thirsty to eradicate the Gulas. When I say “people,” I mean the local population and the Presidential Guard.167

Some of the most serious army abuses documented by Human Rights Watch took place in the Gula village of Ouandja, located between Ouanda-Djallé and Birao, which was retaken by a joint force of FACA and GP troops, assisted by FOMUC and French soldiers, on December 11, 2006. Fifty-seven Gula houses, as well as the local clinic, the school, the mayor’s office, and the gendarmerie building were burned by the FACA and GP in Ouandja. When the joint forces arrived in the village, the CAR soldiers immediately began burning homes, even as the French Army troops protested. A village official related to Human Rights Watch what he witnessed: “The French were still here when the FACA started to burn houses. They tried to stop the FACA, but the FACA refused to listen.”168

When FOMUC and French Army troops continued on their way to Birao, FACA and GP forces remained behind and executed seven people in Ouandja, including a former opposition member of Parliament, Zacharia Rizégala. A village official who was present during the execution and was almost executed himself described what he witnessed:

After the FACA had burned the houses, the Presidential Guard called Zacharia Rizégala and accused him of being a rebel because the rebels took his vehicle. He said he was not with the rebels and that the rebels took his car to Birao without his permission. The military said ‘You are an accomplice of the rebels.’ He denied any ties with the rebels. One of the GP took a hold of his clothes and the former MP pushed his hands away. Then the GP said ‘We are going to kill you.’ The former MP said ‘If you are going to kill me, let me go to my father and then kill me.’ They went together to his father’s house. He explained to his father that the soldiers had arrested him. Then a soldier shot him two times. The first shot missed him, but the second hit him in the chest. He fell down.169

Members of the GP then shot and wounded Kamkusa Abdullah Suleiman, a local villager, who survived. These same members of the GP continued to kill six more villagers in Ouandja, according to the local official who was present:

They fired three shots at me [but missed]. After this, they killed three more people: Abdel Masiq, Awadallah Idriss, and Hamid Hissein. They were ordinary villagers, they were not pisteurs170 or rebels. At the end of the village, they fired on three people, two of them, Abdel Mournin Salim and Mahadi Ashman died on the spot, and the third one, Kalil Sabil died in the bush. We found his body seven kilometers away, eaten by the lions. 171

FACA forces also burned 34 homes and killed five civilians in a second Gula village, Sergobo, which remained deserted when visited by Human Rights Watch on February 25, 2007.

In addition, at least 10 Gulas from Ouadda who tried to return home after joining the rebels were captured and summarily executed by FACA or GP soldiers. The last such execution, of a rebel suspect called Ambaouta, took place in Ouadda on February 11 or 12, 2007. A witness described to Human Rights Watch the killing of a 15-year-old boy, Donald, by GP forces in Ouadda, on December 3 or 4, 2006:

There was this young guy called Donald. He was 15 years old and was known in the village as not doing much. When the rebels came, he was totally excited. He wanted to join them. His father refused but he threatened his father. Nothing could stop him, and he joined the rebels. When they evacuated Ouadda, Donald left with the rebels. Donald came back a few days later. People in Ouadda looked at him and kept “pointing” at him. The Presidential Guard caught him in Lenda, one of Ouadda neighborhoods and they executed him on the spot. They slashed his throat. It was on December 3 or 4.172

Another witness told Human Rights Watch about three other killings, two ethnic Saras and an ethnic Gula:

I know two Saras who have been killed by the Presidential Guard. One was called Gaba, and he was 35 years old. A Gula who had nothing to do with the rebels was arrested as he was coming to Ouadda from Bria. His name was Adoum. He was arrested on December 8 in the morning and executed around 6 p.m. the same day. He was a worker in the mining industry and had come to visit his parents here. He was 45 years old. The FACA executed him.173

A local official confirmed that at least 10 people were summary killed after the recapture of Ouadda. He did not rule out that local villagers, not security forces, may have killed some of the suspected rebels.174 Yet another official in Tiroungoulou estimated that villagers south of Ouanda Djallé had killed around 30 suspected UFDR rebels since the end of December 2006.175

A Gula community leader in Ndélé told Human Rights Watch that four or five suspected UFDR rebels had been executed and killed by government soldiers since the recapture of the town in December 2006, most of them local people who had joined the UFDR, had fled during the counteroffensive, and then returned to Ndélé:

There are people from here who had joined the rebels and who left with them. They fled and might have got lost because they came back to Ndélé. They were captured by the FACA, maybe four or five, and executed. They were not executed together. One, a Gula, was executed at the entrance of Ndélé and his body left for two or three days. People came to see the dead body. Another one was killed in front of the police station and his body exhibited the whole afternoon. I don’t know whether he was a Gula. One, a Gula from here, trained in an anti-poaching unit, was taken outside town and executed two kilometers from here. His name was Aouadala, he was 40 years old. A young seller at the market, an Arab, would have been executed too. 176

Some of the most widespread burning of civilian homes took place in Birao, following a failed UFDR offensive on the town in early 2007. On March 3 and 4, UFDR rebels briefly took control of Birao before being forced to retreat when French airplanes bombed their positions. The fierce fighting caused the whole-scale flight of the civilian population and left massive destruction in its wake. According to preliminary UN estimates, some 70 percent of the homes in Birao, a town of 14,000 people, were burned during this period, mostly by FACA soldiers but also by UFDR rebels who targeted the homes of government officials or those of people who were perceived as being pro-government. A count by local officials found some 736 burned homes in 21 of the 24 districts of Birao, but this count deliberately left out the three majority Gula districts of the town, which have been completely burned down and abandoned.

As with prior UFDR attacks, the aftermath of the March 2007 attack increased inter-ethnic tensions in Birao, with many residents of Birao stating openly hostile views towards the Gulas in interviews with a joint UN/NGO assessment team. The Gula neighborhoods of Montagne, Manou, and Combatants were completely razed, and almost the entire Gula population of Birao fled the town. The mayor of Birao stated to the joint UN/NGO assessment team that he did not expect the displaced Gulas to come back to Birao.

Serious human rights violations by both sides during and after the March 2007 fighting have been documented by a UN assessment mission. FACA soldiers are reported to have been responsible for the “disappearance” of a young man who was detained and has not been seen since. When the local chief tried to inquire about the case, he was told he would also be killed if he didn’t stop asking questions. Further research is required to establish exactly what has occurred in Birao since the March 2007 attack, which took place after the Human Rights Watch research mission.177

Displacement of Gulas

The abuses committed by the FACA and GP against Gula communities, combined with the deep level of resentment from local officials and the population at large who identify all Gulas with the UFDR rebels, have caused the displacement of virtually the entire Gula community from most of the towns and villages formerly occupied by the UFDR, including Ndélé, Ouadda, Ouanda Djallé, and Birao. One elderly man told Human Rights Watch:

My son has fled like all the Gulas when the rebels evacuated. He had nothing to do with the rebellion and was not a rebel but rumors said that the FACA were coming to town to kill the Gulas.178

A Gula community leader from Ouadda who took refuge in Tiroungoulou at the end of December explained to Human Rights Watch why his community had fled:

We left Ouadda, 340 of us, all Gulas. We traveled together to Tirangoulou. We walked for 22 days in the bush. When we heard that the FACA and the French army were coming to Ouadda, we decided to leave. People had already started to point accusing fingers at us.179

A non-Gula man with a Gula wife explained how it was too dangerous for him and his family to stay in Birao after the UFDR rebels left the town. He told Human Rights Watch:

When the rebels evacuated Birao, the other [ethnic groups] began to attack the Gulas, to take revenge. People designated Gula houses in the neighborhoods. Groups from 10 to 15 people armed with knives and machetes rampaged the streets. We didn’t feel safe.180 

Almost no Gulas remained in most of the formerly UFDR-held towns when visited by Human Rights Watch in February 2007. In Ouadda, for instance, the Gula community counted between 300 and 400 out of 7,693 inhabitants before the UFDR occupation. The entire community left when governmental troops re-took the town, save one Gula man who was detained for two weeks, during which time he was threatened with execution.181 The entire Gula neighborhood is empty, some houses have been burned by FACA soldiers, and others looted.

Abuses by UFDR rebels

UFDR rebels have routinely committed serious human rights abuses. There are many reports that rebels have fired indiscriminately on civilians as they have entered towns and villages, causing deaths and flight, followed by looting on a massive scale. In addition, they have carried out summary executions and other unlawful killings of civilians, and there are credible allegations of rape.

Killings and Executions of Civilians

Human Rights Watch documented indiscriminate firing on fleeing villagers during the initial UFDR attacks on Délembé, Ouanda Djallé, Ouadda, and Ndélé during the October to December 2006 offensive.

As UFDR rebels arrived in the village of Délembé, an ethnic Kara village, on the afternoon of October 31, they opened fire on civilians. Abdoulayé Mohammed, the treasurer of the local hospital, tried to hide but was spotted and shot dead at close range. The rebels then looted the hospital, stealing 513,000 CFA [$1,026] in cash and the hospital supplies. A local official reported to Human Rights Watch that three young children and an old woman were also hit by UFDR bullets and died from their wounds:

The shots fired by the rebels also hit others, including three children, one, Mourvé was 9 months old, and the other two were one and two years old. They all died. An old woman, Toma al-Hemra, was also hit inside her home and died.182

At Ouanda Djallé indiscriminate fire by UFDR rebels forced most of the civilian population to flee into the bush, where they remained for the duration of the three-week occupation of the town. Rebels also shot civilians in the bush as they searched them out to steal food. In early November rebels executed Albert Gassa Almendé, an elderly blind farmer at his home, in Ouanda Djallé. A witness recounted what had happened:

When the rebels showed up at the hamlet, I heard gun shots. They came to our house and got everybody out. They asked ‘Where are the men?’ [Albert] was staying outside in the shade of one of the huts. He was blind and did not move much. We replied ‘There are no men around’. Then the rebels spotted [Albert] outside and shot him at close range, he was only three meters away.183

On November 10, UFDR rebels killed Bardal Djémé, the chief of the self-defense force in Ouanda Djallé. After he was detained, the rebels took him to his house, demanding he show them his weapons. A witness recounted to Human Rights Watch what happened next:

One of the rebels asked where he kept the gun he had received. Bardal replied he had no weapon. Then they asked for ammunition. Bardal replied that he had no ammunition too. Suddenly, one of the rebels pulled a knife. Bardal struggled with the rebel who fell on the floor. Bardal burst out of the hut and tried to run away, but he was immediately shot in the back.184

When UFDR rebels captured Ouadda in November, they also fired indiscriminately at the population, causing no casualties but forcing the population to flee. On November 23, 2006, rebels in Ouadda murdered Alhadji Ahmat, a wealthy local businessman, while looting his home and shop. A witness related to Human Rights Watch what had happened:

He was wealthy and was famous for giving money to the poor, and helping people dealing with the local bureaucracy. The rebels took his Thuraya phone, 25 millions CFA, and his hunting guns and ammunitions. Then they killed him.185

According to local government officials, UFDR rebels carried out three more unlawful killings during the late 2006 attacks. The bullet-ridden body of an ethnic Sara youth was discovered six kilometers from Ouadda on November 19, four days after he was detained by rebels in the town. In a second incident, Radjab Saliet, a resident from Ouadda, and a retreating FACA soldier he was transporting on his bike were stopped and killed by UFDR rebels on the Gbali-Ouadda road.186 The execution of captured combatants, like the retreating FACA soldier, is prohibited by the laws of war.

According to various officials and residents of Ndélé, UFDR rebels also fired their weapons indiscriminately when they captured the town on November 25, 2006, causing the population to panic and flee into the bush. One gendarme and one FACA soldier were killed during the UFDR capture of Ndélé, but Human Rights Watch did not receive any reports of civilians being killed or wounded during the UFDR offensive.187

Looting of Civilian Property

In all towns and villages they occupied, UFDR rebels carried out widespread looting and destruction. Rebels systematically sought out, looted, and destroyed all symbols of the state, including police stations, army barracks, court buildings, the mayor’s offices and homes, the offices and homes of the prefect or subprefect, and the offices of the water and forest services, among others. During the occupation of most towns and villages, the civilian population fled their homes in fear, and often remained living in the bush for the duration, leaving their homes and livestock unprotected.

For example, during the occupation of Ouanda Djallé and Ouadda in November and December 2006, UFDR rebels looted goats, chickens, vegetables, and other foodstuff from villagers. After looting the main village markets and neighborhoods, the rebels pillaged more outlying areas as food stocks in the center of towns ran out. In the vicinity of Ouanda Djallé, the UFDR forces looted food stored in homesteads and then burned down numerous hamlets. Many of the affected villages still suffered from food shortages as a result of the looting when visited by Human Rights Watch in February 2007.

Looting was particularly acute in areas where the UFDR concentrated a large number of fighters, like in Ouadda, a town of 7,500 inhabitants where between 700 and 1,000 rebels based themselves for almost three weeks. Witnesses say they faced few abuses the first days of the occupation but that as more rebels flocked in, food shortages became acute and the behavior of the rebels changed for the worse. A Ouadda resident recounted his experience with the rebels:

The rebels invaded the city and occupied the city hall, the subprefect office, the gendarmes’ base, the medical center, the post office, and the airstrip. During the first week, the occupation went rather well but then their behavior deteriorated tremendously. They began to demand food like goats and chicken, and then they asked for money. They broke open the shops at the market, all the shops, and looted everything. Finally, they started to harass people who were going to the market to sell their products. The rebels stole their goods.188

An official confirmed that the medical center had been looted by the UFDR rebels: “They looted everything at the health center: medicine, tools, tables, beds, mattresses, posters, and even the paperwork of the center.

Personal belongings and public property were also stolen. In Ouanda Djallé, a town with a population of 2,839, for example, all administrative buildings, medical centers, churches, and private homes were comprehensively looted. One villager recalled:

The rebels broke open all the private houses in town… They attacked us in the fields also, day after day, hamlet after hamlet. Everything they could put a hand on, they took it. They went from house to house and looted everything. In the fields, they burned houses and also huts full of food they could not take away. They even set crops afire.189

Beatings of civilians

UFDR rebels have frequently beaten civilians in order to extort money or goods, or to obtain information about government officials. One business woman in Ouanda Djallé told Human Rights Watch that she was detained by rebels and taken to their local headquarters where she was severely beaten. The rebels were looking for her husband, a gendarme:

A few days after the rebels came into town, I came back to my home to check what happened. I saw that everything had been looted and I started to cry. A few moments later, the rebels showed up. They asked where my husband was. I didn’t know and they took me to the hospital where they had set up their camp. They put me in a room and started to beat me. They beat me and beat me again. They beat me on the head with the butt of their guns. It lasted the whole day. When they released me around 5 p.m., I went back to the place I was staying in the bush. I became ill and I lost my pregnancy two weeks later.190

A Ouadda resident explained to Human Rights Watch how he was beaten and left tied up by a group of UFDR rebels as they stole his motorcycle to flee Ouadda at the end of November 2006:

The rebels had seen me in Ouadda and knew I had a motorcycle. At some point, I hid my motorcycle. A few days later, they caught me three kilometers away from Ouadda. They beat me, they slapped my face and they beat me again. They wanted my motorcycle. It was when the FACA and the FOMUC forces were attacking and the rebels were retreating. The rebels tied me and left me on the side of the road bleeding. It took me five hours to free myself.191

The head of the Ouadda health center had to flee and hide as the rebels searched for government officials. He explained that his staff had been beaten by the rebels during the occupation:

My staff was beaten up, including the supervisor of the hospital and our security guard. The rebels told them: ‘The chief has left. You are going to pay for that”. They tied them and beat them up.192

The UFDR rebels also forced some civilians to perform menial tasks such as cooking for them, or transporting looted goods. A 15-year-old girl from Ouanda Djallé described how she and another young girl were forced to carry looted goods for the UFDR rebels:

The house was burning down. Everything has been picked up, even the clothes. They [the rebels] asked me to take the bags and to come with them. We walked eight kilometers. It was hot. They didn’t give me water. I was with another girl from the village. When we arrived, we put down the baggage, and they asked me to leave.193

Rape and other forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)

One case of gang-rape has been verified by a joint UN/NGO assessment team that visited the town of Birao, following the UFDR attack in March 2007. A 22-year-old woman reported that she was raped by five UFDR soldiers at the central market on the afternoon of March 3. She had gone to the market to look for food for her daughter and was stopped by rebels who were looting surrounding buildings. All five men raped the woman, while her two-year-old daughter stood nearby.194

Other humanitarian assessment missions have recorded allegations of dozens of cases of rapes by UFDR rebels in various localities, but these have not, as yet, been verified.195 During its research mission, Human Rights Watch did not find significant evidence of conflict-related rape or other forms of SGBV in the places it visited. Neither have international medical humanitarian workers present throughout the crisis documented or treated rape cases. In Ouadda, the head of the medical center said that he had not received any cases of SGBV perpetrated by rebels.

However, collecting evidence of rape and sexual violence is not straightforward, as survivors or their families may not chose to make incidents public to avoid stigma and discrimination. It is possible that some incidents of SGBV took place during the UFDR occupation and during the subsequent recapture of the towns by the CAR security forces in December 2006. The head of the Ouadda medical center, for example, added that he would not be surprised if cases came to his knowledge in the coming months.196 The subprefect of Ouanda Djallé explained that cultural taboos may prevent women from coming forward to talk about rape:

When it comes to the entire female population of Ouanda Djallé during the occupation, I can’t rule out that rapes happened, but it will be kept secret.197

According to a witness in Ouadda, one of the main UFDR commanders present in this city during the occupation, Captain Yao, acknowledged abuses including rape committed by his troops during a public speech. During a public address in downtown Ouadda on November 25, Yao reportedly told his troops: “It is forbidden to attack civilians, to loot and to rape women. It is what you have done that contributed to our failure”.198 Captain Yao was later killed during the December counteroffensive.

Child soldiers and forced recruitment

UFDR commanders denied having child soldiers to Human Rights Watch. However, an OCHA-led interagency UN assessment mission that traveled throughout the UFDR territory in January 2007 reported seeing numerous children in their ranks. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they have seen child soldiers with the rebels during the October-November 2006 offensive. An official at the Ouanda Djallé high school described what he saw, on November 10, 2006, when the UFDR rebels arrived in Ouanda Djallé:

The rebels were numerous, they came aboard seven vehicles. Some came by foot. They were 800, maybe 900. There were even child soldiers among them, as young as 14 years old.199

The UFDR also appears to have engaged in forced recruitment of children (and adults). When the UFDR retreated from Ouanda Djallé, they forcibly recruited at least five children and three young adults: Ali Moussa, aged 16; Ahmed Sendé, 16; Alexi Izen, 16; Alias Djouma, 15; and Hassan Sangayé, 15; Abaker Siar, 20; Stéphane Aroun, 27; and Ndopandji, 18. None have been seen since.200

A January 2007 UNICEF assessment mission to Vakanga province confirmed the presence of “armed children” among the ranks of UFDR. Following talks between UNICEF and the UFDR’s military chief, Damane Zakaria, the UFDR agreed in May 2007 to release some 400 child soldiers from its ranks. An initial list with 220 child soldiers to be demobilized was handed over to UNICEF at this time.201

126 Communiqué de presse de l’Union des f orces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR)-RCA, “On the Importance of Dialogue in the Search for Peace in the Central African Republic” (De l’Importance du dialogue pour la paix en République Centrafricaine,) January 31, 2007; “CAR: Rebels Call for Dialogue After Capturing Key Town,” IRIN, November 2, 2006.

127 Ibid.

128 Small Arms Survey, “Sudan Issue Brief: A Widening War Around Sudan,” January 2007. The Chadian-born Faki Ahmat was Abdoulayé Miskine’s principal Lieutenant in the mercenary force recruited by Miskine to protect the régime of Patassé. However, after Miskine’s forces committed a number of atrocities against Chadians in northern CAR, Faki Ahmet defected to the rebel movement of General Bozizé. Christophe Boisbouvier, “Invasive ‘liberators’,” (Envahissants ‘libérateurs’) JAI, April 28, 2004, (accessed July 11, 2007).

129 “Central African Rebel Leaders Arrested in Benin,” Reuters, November 25, 2006.

130 “Central African Nation to Sign Peace Deal with Rebels,” Associated Press, April 13, 2007. UFDR leaders have denied that an earlier deal (January 2007) between Abdoulayé Miskine, the head of Front démocratique du peuple Centrafricain (FDPC), and the CAR authorities had any relationship with the UFDR, although Miskine has frequently claimed to speak for the group (Communiqué de presse de l’Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR)-RCA, “On the Importance of Dialogue in the Search for Peace in the Central African Republic” (De L’Importance du dialogue pour la paix en République Centrafricaine,) January 31, 2007.)

131 “Armed men thought to be from Darfur occupy town in Central Africa,” Sudan Tribune, May 26, 2007.

132 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Tiroungoulou, February 26, 2007.

133 United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002, Central African Republic,” March 31, 2003, (accessed July 11, 2007).

134 UNHCR et al., “The People are Traumatised:” Report on a joint UN/NGO mission to Birao and Am Dafok, Central African Republic, 23-25 March 2007 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

135 Apart from an inaugural meeting in Bangui in June 2002, the representatives of the two countries never met again and no significant work came out of the commission. See: “Bangui, Khartoum vow to revive joint security team”, Sudan Tribune, December 4, 2003, (accessed July 11, 2007)

136 Human Rights Watch interviews, Tiroungoulou, February 26 and 27, 2007.

137 United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002, Central African Republic,” March 31, 2003, (accessed July 11, 2007).

138 Human Rights Watch interview with Brigadier-General Raymond Paul Ndougou, former Prefect of Birao, Bozoum, February 12, 2007.

139 Ibid.

140 For example, a village leader in Ouandja told Human Rights Watch: “Yahya Ramadan was killed by [Sudanese] Arabs, and then we had gunbattles between the Gula and the Arabs. Then the Sudanese called for a reconciliation meeting…The Government of Sudan agreed that since their tribes had come on our territory, they would pay compensation. President Bozizé accepted the money to be given to the Gulas as compensation, but we never saw this money. We went to ask at the Sudanese Consul in Am Dafok, and he confirmed the money had been transferred to Bozizé. The money was used for the [2005] elections [campaign of Bozizé.]” Human Rights Watch interview with village leader, Ouandja, February 27, 2007.

141 “Chad: Rebel Offensive Poses Risks of Ethnic Reprisals; Warring Parties Must Protect All Civilians” , Human Rights Watch news release, April 13, 2006,; Human Rights Watch, Violence Beyond Borders: The Human Rights Crisis in Eastern Chad, No. 4, June 22, 2006,; Human Rights Watch, They Came to Kill Us’: Militia Attacks and Ethnic Targeting of Civilians in Eastern Chad  (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2007),

142 Small Arms Project, “Sudan Issue Brief: A Widening War Around Sudan,” January 2007.

143 FIDH, “Forgotten, Stigmatised,” p. 52.

144 Human Rights Watch interviews, Tiroungoulou, February 26 and 27, 2007. See also: “CAR complains of Airspace violation in tri-border area with Chad and Sudan”, Global Insight Daily Analysis, 27 April 2006 and “CAR-Chad”, IRIN, 29 June 2006.

145 Human Rights Watch interview with Sheikh of Tiroungoulou, Tiroungoulou, February 26, 2007.

146 “Central African Republic army clashes with rebels in northeastern region,” BBC Monitoring Africa, June 1, 2006.

147 Lieutenant Dogo has been accused by international human rights groups and BONUCA of direct involvement in at least 17 summary executions around the capital, Bangui in 2003 and 2004, but was never brought to account for his crimes. See FIDH, “Forgotten, Stigmatised,” p. 47.

148 According to Tiroungoulou village leaders, the seven civilians killed were: Abderahman Anglis, 60; Djabré Anglis, 50; Abdulkarim Djabré, 28; Abdou Morai, 28; Aroun Sarfayé, 25; Soumain Senten, 50; and Abdoulayé Deher, 30. Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Tiroungoulou, February 27, 2007.

149 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Tiroungoulou, February 26, 2007.

150 Ibid.

151 “33 Die in Army-Rebel Fighting,” IRIN, 29 June 2006.

152 Ibid.

153 “CAR President calls for national unity following incursion,” BBC Monitoring Africa, July 3, 2006.

154 “33 Die in Army-Rebel Fighting,” IRIN, 29 June 2006.

155 “Histoire de la Sous-Préfecture de Ouadda à l’arrivée des rebelles”, Préfecture de la Haute Kotto, Sous-Préfecture de Ouadda, Secrétariat Sous-Préfecture, N˚001/PHK/SPO/SSP.07.CF, 05 December 2006

156 UN OCHA estimates that 15,000 out of 55,287 people are displaced in Vakaga; 15,000 out of 45,737 in Bamingi-Bangora; and 20,000 out of 95,556 in Haute-Kotto. The level of displacement in the northeast is much higher than in the northwest, with between 21 to 32 percent of the entire population displaced in the area (27 percent in Vakaga, 21percent in Haute-Kotto, and 32 percent in Bamingi-Bangora). UN OCHA, “Central African Republic Fact Sheet”, February 2007, (accessed July 11, 2007).

157 “Annan ‘gravely concerned’ about rampant insecurity,” IRIN, January 7, 2004; “Central African Republic: Bozize urged to discipline his former fighters,” IRIN, December 19, 2003 (quoting President Bozizé as stating that abuses by ex-libérateurs “were part of the problems to be urgently settled.”); “Bozize dismisses Goumba’s government,” IRIN, December 11, 2003 (stating that Bozizé’s dismissal of Goumba’s government came “came after weeks of discontent among the residents of the capital, Bangui, following a number of assassinations of civilians blamed on the security forces and Chadian mercenaries.”).

158 Henri-Blaise N'damas, “Centrafrique: Alliés hier, ennemis d’aujourd’hui,” Syfia Centrafrique, November 16, 2006, (accessed July 11, 2007).

159 “ICRC assists victims of looting in Bangui suburb,” IRIN, May 17, 2004.

160 “Echanges de tirs entre armée centrafricaine et ex-“libérateurs” à Bangui,” AFP, April 17, 2004; “CAR Minister on clashes, says ex-combatants need disarmament, reintegration,” BBC Monitoring Africa, April 19, 2004; “Six dead, minister hurt in clashes between Central African army and ex-rebels,” AFP, April 18 2004; “Tirs: L’extrême nord de Bangui bouclé par les forces de l’ordre,” AFP, April 23, 2004; Jean-Lambert Ngouandji, “Shooting breaks out in Central African capital,” Reuters, April 22, 2004; “Heavy weapons fire heard in capital of Central African Republic,” AFP, April 22, 2004; Chris Melville, “CAR Government Reinforces Capital as Talks with Dissident Militia Collapse,” WMRC Daily Analysis, April 22, 2004.

161 “Heavy weapons fire heard in capital of Central African Republic,” AFP, April 22, 2004.

162“Bozizé honors payment deal for former rebels,” IRIN, April 28, 2004.

163 Witnesses to attacks last year describe the UFDR members as belonging mainly to the Gula but also to the Sarah, Ronga, and Haoussa. Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007 and Human Rights Watch interview with local official (name withheld), Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007.

164 Ibid.

165 Ibid.

166 Ibid.

167 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

168 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouandja, February 25, 2007

169 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld),  Ouandja, February 25, 2007

170 Pisteurs are members of anti-poaching units who received limited military training to protect the local wildlife from poachers. Most pisteurs in the region are Gula, and some pisteurs are active in the UFDR rebel movement.

171 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouandja, February 25, 2007

172 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

173 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

174 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

175 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Tiroungoulou, February 26, 2007

176 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld),  Ndélé, February 23, 2007

177 UNHCR et al., “The People are Traumatised:” Report on a joint UN/NGO mission to Birao and Am Dafok, Central African Republic, 23-25 March 2007 (on file with Human Rights Watch); “CAR: Northern town empty as scared civilians stay away,” IRIN, March 22, 2007.

178 Human Rights Watch interview (name, place, and date  withheld).

179 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Tiroungoulou, February 27, 2007.

180 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Tiroungoulou, February 26, 2007.

181 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007.

182 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Délembé, February 27, 2007

183 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007

184 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007

185 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

186 See: “Histoire de la Sous-Préfecture de Ouadda à l’arrivée des rebelles”, Préfecture de la Haute Kotto, Sous-Préfecture de Ouadda, Secrétariat Sous-Préfecture, N˚001/PHK/SPO/SSP.07.CF, 05 December 2006

187 Human Rights Watch interview with subprefect Jean-Nestor Lopere, Ndélé, February 22, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with commander of gendarmerie, Ndélé, February 22, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with Gula representative (name  withheld), Ndélé, February 23, 2007.

188 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

189 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007

190 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007

191 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

192 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007.

193 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007

194 UNHCR et al., “The People are Traumatised:” Report on a joint UN/NGO mission to Birao and Am Dafok, Central African Republic, 23-25 March 2007 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

195 For example, a humanitarian assessment mission which visited the region in January 2007 reported alleged 10 cases of rape in Ouanda Djallé and 35 cases of rape in Ouadda reported by local authorities, although it could not investigate the allegations because of the limited time available (a short, one hour visit to the town). Health and civilian officials in both towns, as well as local civilians, denied to Human Rights Watch there had been cases of rape during the UFDR occupation of their town.

196 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

197 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), subprefect, Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007

198 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouadda, February 28, 2007

199 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007

200 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), subprefect, Ouanda Djallé, February 25, 2007.

201 “UNICEF starts talks on child disarmament in Central African Republic,” UNICEF press statement, May 21, 2007, (accessed July 11, 2007).