UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- Children in the Central African Republic (CAR) need urgent protection amid widespread tension between pro-government forces and Seleka rebels, a UN humanitarian official said.
"You can imagine children living in a temporary shelter or outside a farm, children that do not have access to a school, children that fall sick and cannot get access to medical treatment," Shannon Strother, chief of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) emergency team in CAR, in a recent interview with Xinhua.
The Seleka rebels, who accused CAR President Francois Bozize of reneging on a 2008 peace deal and cracking down on dissidents, launched another revolt early December, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
The rebels have attacked several towns across the country and are moving from the northeast toward the capital, Bangui.
The UN agency is worried that children might not have access to food or nutrition and that children might be recruited by armed groups or targeted by particular violence, Strother said.
The emergency coordinator said children outside of protection, such as the thousands of street children in Bangui with no families or parents, are under pressure to join the militia groups as porters, cooks or even combatants and sex slaves.
"We want to make sure we work with these armed groups whether they be rebel or governmental to make sure they (children) do not join this conflict," Strother said.
The coordinator said pro-government forces are forming auto defense groups in Bangui primarily composed of youth, including children who were asked to patrol their neighborhoods to make sure there are no strangers.
UNICEF was able to negotiate the release of about 1,500 children in the rebel groups previous to the conflict. "But obviously we remain concerned about these children that still remain in the ranks of these two armed groups and (we are) working to see if we can have those children released," said the coordinator.