|During her visit to the Central African Republic, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow greets boys at Voix de Coeur, a child centre in Bangui, the capital.|
BANGUI, Central African Republic, 13 February, 2007 – In a rapidly arranged ceremony, President François Bozizé awarded UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow a presidential Medal of Honour in recognition of her services to his nation.
A renowned humanitarian and internationally acclaimed actress, Ms. Farrow is in the Central African Republic (CAR) to highlight one of the world’s most neglected crises – a conflict that has partly spilled over from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, and has left some 150,000 people displaced in this landlocked, isolated country.
The president was reportedly impressed that Ms. Farrow travelled from the United States to visit far-flung, conflict-affected parts of CAR, and he wanted to honour her as a gesture of his gratitude. The presidential medal is usually reserved for heads of state or for nationals who have distinguished themselves in the nation’s service since its independence from France in 1960.
Dressed in a simple black dress, the petite Ms. Farrow stood on the red carpet facing the presidential palace with the pomp of the military brass behind her. She was clearly moved as the president pinned the turquoise-blue medal on her:
“I will wear this medal close to my heart not only as a souvenir of this beautiful country. It will be a constant reminder of the courage of its people,” she said.
|Mia Farrow administers oral polio vaccine to an infant in the northern town of Birao, near the Sudan border, Central African Republic.|
Fear of renewed attacks
Since her arrival on Saturday, Ms. Farrow has visited Birao, the volatile northeast corner of the country close to the borders of Chad, Sudan and the Darfur region. Crowds came out to greet her and take their children for much-needed immunization.
Just two months ago the area was a battleground, as French military-assisted forces from CAR and Chad fought to retake the town of Birao from rebels. Now the only signs of the conflict are heavy security – anti-aircraft guns, a mix of Central African and Chadian troops armed with automatic rifles, and French military at the ready.
But the population still lives in fear of renewed attacks.
Ms. Farrow heard testimony from women in Birao who said many of them had been raped by rebels and were forced to flee during the battle for the town – much of which was destroyed. In the haze of this complex conflict, what is not in doubt is the pressing need for protection.
|Shown here greeting women in Birao, Central African Republic, Mia Farrow is participating in a child health and survival campaign calling attention to the effects of conflict.|
Need for outside assistance
“Protection, protection, protection. Above all, that’s what people are in need of here,” said Ms. Farrow. “They are so eager to rebuild their lives and rebuild their villages, and of course they need help with that. But until there is security, no one can do anything. They desperately need the UN to come in and send an international peacekeeping [force] and provide security.”
But before peace and peacekeepers come, those most neglected of all – the country’s children – need to be protected from killer diseases like measles, malaria and polio. UNICEF’s staff here is actively trying to reach the most hard-to-reach children, but with heavy seasonal rains and poor infrastructure, access is limited.
With so many people displaced by the conflict, CAR is still looking to the outside for help. UN peacekeepers have been given a Chapter Seven Mandate for CAR, which allows them to defend civilians, but a date for their arrival in the region has not yet been set.
Ms. Farrow also met street children and visited HIV/AIDS projects in Bangui, and pygmy communities in Lobbaye, southwest of the capital. She is writing a blog of her trip to the region, which can be followed on her website, www.miafarrow.org.