French Troops Arrive In Central African Republic

David Greene talks with Sylvain Groulx, head of mission for Doctors without Borders in the Central African Republic, about the state of the violence there and the hopes for peace now that French troops have arrived.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning. There are finally some signs of hope in the Central African Republic. This is a country that has been engulfed in violence for months now. Almost half a million people have been forced from their homes in this impoverished nation near the equator. This was all sparked by a political coup that erupted into a sectarian conflict pitting Muslim militias against Christians.

Heavy fighting in the capital last week left hundreds dead. But now, France has added to a peacekeeping force in the country, sending hundreds more troops. And there is hope they may be able to bring some order. Let's turn now to the capital, Bangui, and Sylvain Groulx, who is the head omission for Medicins Sans Frontieres. This is the aid agency known in the U.S. as Doctors Without Borders. Good morning.

SYLVAIN GROULX: Good morning, sir.

GREENE: So can you take us to the capital right now? What are you seeing? What's the situation there?

GROULX: Well, the situation there has evolved tremendously since the whole combat started in Bangui last Thursday. Today the population are timidly coming out of the neighborhood and are starting to slowly come out onto the streets following the patrols of the French army which have started over the last few days.

It's an uneasy calm. There's a lot of tension. But today is one of the first days that we can say it seems to be a little more quiet.

GREENE: And we should say that the violence got awful in the capital. And you're saying people are literally hiding in their homes and not able to come outside at all.

GROULX: Well, frankly, Medicins Sans Frontieres took charge of over 200 wounded during the first two days. And on top of that we have the local Red Cross which is reporting having collecting over 400 bodies since then. So yes, the violence was extreme and the population are still very concerned about possible outbreaks of violence.

GREENE: You're describing, you know, your organization and the Red Cross dealing with so many dead. I mean what kind of challenges is your organization still facing even as some stability seems to be arriving?

GROULX: Well, it's mostly having access to the population because a lot of the population have now fled into different compounds, mostly religious compounds. And they're very fearful of coming out and going to any health centers and hospitals. And for that matter, most of the health personnel have not been at work since last Thursday.

On top of that, you have groups of - you know, next to the airport right now there's over 10,000 people that are living there completely out in the open. No latrines, very, very limited amount of safe drinking water. So it's not an easy situation.

However, that being said, hopefully over the next few days the French army's presence, as well as the Central African troop presence, are more and more on the streets and they're able to secure, I think the population will be able to return to their place of work. So doctors, nurses, midwives will be back at work and people will be able to have access, because public transportation will be back. And also because they'll feel secure to leave their homes.

GREENE: So you're getting the sense that peace is coming to the capital, but have these militias, I mean have they just moved out of the city to other places at this point? Or are you getting the sense that these French troops have actually sort of gotten them under control?

GROULX: No. I think there hasn't been a question of control yet. I think just the sheer presence has brought both parties now to essentially just go back to certain areas of the city. So that's why I'm talking about an uneasy calm and tension right now. Because both actors, both groups, are within the area and we know they still have their weapons.

And now what's going to happen over the next few days and weeks is going to be significantly important, especially for the civilian population.

GREENE: Sylvain Groulx is the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in the Central African Republic. And we reached him in the capital, Bangui. Thank you so much for talking to us.

GROULX: Thank you, David.

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