Conditions are deteriorating in the Central African Republic, where Islamist militants overthrew the government last spring. There’s been sectarian violence and a growing humanitarian crisis.
France’s U.N. ambassador called the situation in Central African Republic “horrendous.” Other human rights observers, diplomats and government officials use similar terms to describe the African country, where armed Seleka rebels from neighboring countries have engineered a near-civil war between the country’s dominant Christian population and minority Muslims. “The state has collapsed, and this country is now simply plundered, looted, the women are raped, people are killed by thugs,” French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said earlier this month. U.S. State Department officials have used similar language. France and Rwanda, which has had its own history of genocide, are trying to organize intervention, but the situation is considered so volatile no one is sure how to make a definitive move. More than 400,000 people have been displaced, and reports of child murders and grotesque violence are prompting fears that genocide may be inevitable. Yahoo News examines the resource-wealthy but broken country and the complicated political situation that has led to deadly chaos.
An ex-Seleka soldier stands guard as his commander, General Yaya, meets Multinational Force of Central Africa (Fomac) peacekeepers at the Fomac camp in Bossangoa, Central African Republic. Photograph: Joe Penney/Reuters
By Joe Penney
Mathieu Marco hid in his shower as the Muslim militia commander who came to kill him screamed at his young son, demanding to know where he was. Frustrated at his failure to find the man he took for a Christian fighter, he seized a 13-year-old neighbor on the street and shot him in front of the house.
“He killed him in cold blood, just like that. Pow, pow!” said Marco, a portrait photographer living now in the remote town of Bossangoa among 40,000 Christians displaced by sectarian violence now gripping the Central African Republic.
Like others with tales of arbitrary violence he sees salvation in foreign intervention.
“French soldiers or Americans or Asians . . . We just want peace,” he said, anxiously listening to his radio at the entrance to the church grounds where the refugees have settled.
Central African Republic, a nation of 4.6 million people at the heart ofAfrica, has been gripped by violence since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels, many of them fighters from neighbouring Sudan and Chad, seized power in the majority Christian country in March.
“Seleka are just professional bandits,” said Marco. “They have come here to plunder our nation. They must be chased away, that’s all.”
With the landlocked country sliding deeper into chaos, former colonial power France plans to boost its force there to 1,000 troops to restore law and order until a larger African Union contingent fully deploys.
Some 460,000 people, a tenth of the population, have fled the sectarian violence since the Seleka rebel coalition, a loose alliance of warlords, seized power. Fearing that tit-for-tat killings could escalate into full-blown war between religious communities and destabilise the entire region, world powers are scrambling into action.
France forced to act France, which has repeatedly intervened in Central African Republic since independence in 1960, stood by as the rebels marched south to topple President François Bozize, over-running a contingent of South African peacekeepers. France’s 400 troops have protected the international airport and French assets.
With a 2,500-strong regional African force unable to contain violence, France has been forced into action. However, details remain sketchy over how Paris hopes it can, with 1,000 soldiers, impose order in a nation roughly the size of France.
But news of French reinforcements, due to be approved by the UNSecurity Council as early as next week, has already spawned hope among many in the southern riverside capital Bangui, which French soldiers will seek to stabilise first.
“It has calmed people. We feel safe with the arrival of the French. It reassures us,” said 30-year-old resident Mauricia, who stuck a French flag to a window of her car.