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9533News from Central African Republic (CAR): CAR mosque destroyed after church attack

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  • Zafar Khan
    May 31, 2014
      CAR mosque destroyed after church attack
      Young men loot mosque in Bangui as international peacekeepers face criticism for slow response to deadly church raid.
      Last updated: 30 May 2014 04:11


      A group of young men in the Central African Republic have plundered a mosque in the capital and barricaded streets with burning tyres in protest at a deadly attack on a Catholic church.

      The destruction of one of the last mosques in the city on Thursday appeared to be carried out in retaliation after armed men threw grenades and opened fire on a crowd in the Notre Dame de Fatima church, killing at least 11 people.

      There were no casualties at the mosque as it was empty.

      The country has been gripped by ethnic and religious violence for a year since Seleka rebels, who are mostly Muslim, seized power. The Seleka left power in January under international pressure and since then Christian "anti-balaka" militias have launched a series of attacks on Muslims.

      The unrest has largely driven Muslims from the capital and other surrounding areas to the north and neighbouring countries, effectively partitioning the Central African Republic, whose northeast is controlled mainly by Muslim rebel forces.

      Thousands have been killed and about a million people displaced because of the conflict. More than 2.5 million people need humanitarian aid, a figure that represents more than half the population.

      'Peacekeepers failing'

      African and European peacekeepers patrol the country, but have failed to stop the violence.

      Sebastien Wenezoui, a leader of the anti-Balaka militia, accused international forces of abandoning the church to its attackers and singled out Burundian soldiers among the African peacekeeping force, called MISCA, as well as French soldiers who he said could have reacted faster to the initial onslaught.

      "It's very sad. What hurts us most is that France is here to protect the civilian population. MISCA is there to protect the population but when we called the Burundians they didn't come," he told the Reuters news agency.

      His comments were echoed by Catholic priest at the church, Jonas Bekas, who said peacekeepers were slow to respond to frantic calls he and other priests made from inside the church to say they were under attack.

      Muslim youths mutilated in CAR
      Muslims youths killed and mutilated by Christian militia while on their way to an interfaith football match.
      Last updated: 27 May 2014 09:53


      At least three Muslim youths have been killed and mutilated by a Christian militia in the Central African Republic while on their way to play in a reconciliation football game between the two faiths, according to organisers and a spokesman for the country's Muslim community.

      The match between Muslim and Christian youths was set up as part of efforts to forge peace between the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels who seized power last year and the rival anti-Bakala Christian militia.

      "Their sex organs and hearts have been removed," Ousmane Abakar, the Muslim community spokesman, told Reuters news agency on Sunday.

      He said the bodies of the boys, from Bangui's mostly Muslim PK5 neighbourhood, had been taken to a mosque in the capital by the community after the attack. Their ages were not known.

      Youths in PK5 barricaded the main road in protest, residents said.

      Sebastien Wenezoui, a coordinator of the anti-Balaka, condemned the attacks and said 10 youths had been abducted in the incident by a faction of the group from the Boy-Rabe neighbourhood.

      "We do not know where the others are," Wenezoui said. "We strongly condemn these acts. While we are currently working towards peace, others continue to kill."

      Lazare Djader, president of Collectif Urgence 236, the association working to reconcile the communities, said months of work to bring the youths together had been dealt a heavy blow.

      "Because of these deaths, I have zero morale. Several months of efforts are lost. I'm trying to calm everyone down but they are all very angry right now," Djader said, adding that a non-Muslim youth had also been found killed.

      Seleka was forced to relinquish power under international pressure in January and since then, Christian militias known as anti-Balaka have mounted widespread attacks on Muslims.

      More than 2,000 people have been killed in the violence in Central African Republic and a million of the country's 4.5m people have been forced from their homes despite the presence of several thousand African peacekeepers and European Union and French troops.

      The UN has warned that the conflict could descend nto genocide.

      For the Muslims of CAR, it's 'leave or die'
      Thousands of Muslims in the Central African Republic have fled as UN chief warns of 'ethno-religious cleansing'.
      Chris Stein Last updated: 29 Apr 2014 06:45


      It's come down to this for the Muslims of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

      Muslims here once lived freely among the Christian majority, running businesses and praying in mosques. Now, many of the city's Muslims have fled, and on Sunday about 1,300 Muslims from Bangui's PK12 neighbourhood were evacuated to safety by peacekeeping forces.

      Already one of the world's poorest countries, CAR has seen a wave of upheaval and violence in the past 15 months. The 10-month reign of the Muslim-dominated Seleka rebel group inflamed intercommunal tensions in the country, and spurred the rise of Christian militias called the anti-Balaka.

      Once the Seleka was forced out of power in January, the anti-Balaka rampaged, targeting Muslims across the country for their perceived support of the Seleka and its bloody excesses.

      At the peak of the violence, mobs hunted down Muslims in mosques or pulled them out of taxis and butchered them in the street. In one incident, a group of soldiers listened to a speech from the newly installed interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, then lynched a Muslim man and set his body on fire after it was over.

      United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dubbed the bloodshed "ethno-religious cleansing".

      'It's a kind of prison'

      In the capital Bangui, the purging will soon be complete.

      In PK5, the sole neighbourhood in the capital where Muslims are still safe, more than 1,000 Muslims from across Bangui and surrounding towns huddle around a mosque, weathering near-nightly violence and waiting to escape.

      "It's a kind of prison," said Mahamat Babikir, the leader of an organisation representing the displaced Muslims, who call the dirt yard around the PK5 neighbourhood's mosque home. "If you go far from the mosque, you can just be stoned or shot by the anti-Balaka."

      While a few business owners hold out hope of staying, most sheltering at the mosque speak only of a desire to flee. Even with French soldiers on patrol and African Union troops stationed at a school across the street, gunfire is a regular occurrence in PK5.

      "Everybody wants to leave because of what's happening here," said Fatimata Wade, one of those sheltering at the mosque. "The anti-Balaka, they'll kill Muslims for any reason."

      Seleka legacy

      The Seleka stormed Bangui in March 2013, kicking out President Francois Bozize, who had himself taken power by force in 2003.

      Many of those who ushered the Seleka's President Michel Djotodia into office were from the country's north, or mercenaries from neighbouring Sudan and Chad. Few had any affinity for the country's south.

      "If they perceived an area as being… a stronghold of possible opposition to their power, they would just attack that area abusively," said Joanne Mariner, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International. "The result of that, obviously, was to create enormous resentment and animus, and that ended up being vented on the Muslim population as a whole."

      The toll of that backlash can be seen a few streets away from PK5's Muslim haven, where a gutted mosque and crushed houses stand as testament to anti-Balaka wrath.

      The militiamen who did this still roam the neighbourhood, coldly explaining how they use clubs and grenades to destroy homes, and pilfer roofs and doors for their own houses.

      Some of the anti-Balaka characterise the Muslims as foreigners, a reference to the many Muslims of Chadian descent and the use of Arabic in the community, which is not one of CAR's official languages.

      "Those who are staying in the mosque, they need only to depart," said Stanislas Nzale, an anti-Balaka. "Even if they were born here, there's no need to stay."

      Others speak simply of revenge.

      Once a civil servant, Sebastian Wenezoui said he joined the anti-Balaka after Seleka fighters burned his family inside a house. "If they see some Christians passing by, they'll kill them," Wenezoui said of the city's remaining Muslims. "That's why we kill them."

      Roots of the carnage

      Earlier this month, the UN endorsed what was considered an option of last resort, announcing it would facilitate the evacuation of Muslims from enclaves such as PK5. Nothing of the sort has been done since the Balkan wars in the 1990s, said Tammi Sharpe, the deputy country representative in CAR for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

      "Nobody's comfortable about this relocation. Nobody feels that it is an ideal solution, that this the best way forward," Sharpe told Al Jazeera. "It's ripe with all kinds of questions that are going to come up. It's also ripe with all kinds of questions if they stay where they are."

      Come Haroun, a deputy of the mosque's imam, said the Muslims can't hang on to PK5 any more. But that doesn't mean they can easily put what happened there behind them.

      "It will be difficult to be together with Christians, because some Muslims here, it is difficult for them to forgive," Haroun said. "You can't forgive this kind of situation."

      Muslims escorted out of CAR capital Bangui
      Evacuation of hundreds of Muslims from Central African Republic's capital Bangui triggers looting in abandoned areas.
      Last updated: 28 Apr 2014 02:42


      Peacekeeping troops have escorted around 1,300 Muslims out of the Central African Republic’s capital city, removing one of the last pockets of Muslims from Bangui, in a nation torn apart by religious violence.

      Peacekeepers stood by on Sunday, as Christians, some armed with machetes and bows and arrows, swarmed into and looted houses in Bangui's northern PK12 neighbourhood, which had been a Muslim district in the majority Christian south.

      "We are leaving to save our lives," Mohamed Ali Mohamed, who was born and brought up in the area, told Reuters news agency as fellow Muslims tied jerry cans to trucks ahead of the trip.

      Foreign troops have escorted thousands of Muslims to relative safety in the north of the Central African Republic.

      But some leaders fear that will make permanent divisions that have led to talk of partition after 18 months of conflict.

      Central African Republic's minister for reconciliation last week criticised the evacuations, warning they would play into the hands of Muslim rebels who want to create an independent state in the north.

      Auguste Boukanga, president of the URD party which remained neutral in the conflict, echoed these concerns, calling on the 2,000 French and over 5,000 African peacekeepers to instead stick to their mandate of disarming the gunmen.

      Giuseppe Loprete, head of the local office of the International Organisation for Migration, the UN agency involved in the evacuation, said Muslims living near the central mosque and in PK5, another Bangui neighbourhood, did not want to leave.

      "We are working on social cohesion ... I'm not sure that they want to leave. Actually they told us they prefer to stay in Bangui," he said.

      ‘Religious cleansing’

      Some of the departing Muslims torched their cars as they could not take them in the convoy but did not want Christians to be able to use them once they had left.

      Mainly Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, seized Bangui last year after complaining they had been marginalised by President Francois Bozize's government. Their time in power was marked by abuses and killings that led to the creation of Christian self-defence militia.

      Seleka leader Michel Djotodia stepped down in January under international pressure as violence spiralled out of control. Interim authorities, backed by French and African peacekeepers, are still struggling to restore order and rights groups say parts of the country have experienced "religious cleansing".

      "It is a shame but there is nothing we can do," said Dieudonne Bignilaba, a Christian resident. "For many years we lived together but they were the ones who brought the weapons here to kill us."

      After watching their former neighbours leave, from behind a thin white rope barrier put up by Congolese peacekeepers, hundreds of Christians, including women and children, took part in the looting. Many chanted "Liberation, Liberation!"

      Christian militias take bloody revenge on Muslims in Central African Republic
      Children are reportedly targeted by Christian anti-balaka gangs set up in wake of attacks by Muslim Seleka rebels
      David Smith in Bangui
      theguardian.com, Monday 10 March 2014 14.51 GMT


      They brought in the bodies one by one, laying them down on a white sheet concealed behind a flimsy black curtain. Among them was a man, probably in his 20s, his head twisted leftward, the skull dented on one side and cracked open on the other. The others also had fatal head injuries that stained the sheet crimson. The first flies began settling on the five corpses.

      In the courtyard outside, voices were raised in anger and bewilderment. Mothers in pink and purple hijabs sobbed and wailed and a middle-aged man, possibly unused to naked shows of emotion, sat and gently wept. Finally the iron gate of the mosque was thrown open and the mourners surged forward to gaze at the dead. An imam, donning a plastic smock over his white robe, prepared to wash them while another man began cutting cotton shrouds for the day's burials.

      The macabre scene in an area known as PK5 has become almost commonplace in Bangui, the humid and decaying capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), where Muslims are under siege. It has also been played out in towns and villages in the west of the country, redrawing the demographic map.

      Muslims came here to trade in the early 19th century and made up 15% of the CAR's population a year ago, but since then untold thousands have been killed or displaced or have fled to neighbouring countries. The UN said last week that while 130,000 to 145,000 Muslims normally lived in the capital, Bangui, the population had been reduced to around 10,000 in December and now stood at just 900.

      Amnesty International has called it "ethnic cleansing" and warned of a "Muslim exodus of historic proportions".

      As Africa prepares to mark next month's 20th anniversaries of the Rwandan genocide and the end of South African apartheid, what is happening in this long-neglected state is a reminder that forgiveness and reconciliation are easy words but hewn from rock over generations. Christian militias freely admit that theirs is an exercise in vengeance, an eye for an eye, and they will not stop until they have "cleaned" the country of Muslims. On Monday, UN human rights investigators in CAR announced they would investigate reports of genocide.

      The seeds were sown in March last year when the Seleka, a largely Muslim rebel group, seized Bangui in a coup, installed the country's first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia, and terrorised the majority Christian population, killing men, women and children. In response, predominantly Christian forces known as the anti-balaka (balaka means machete in Sango, the local language) launched counterattacks against the Seleka and perceived Muslim collaborators.

      International pressure forced Djotodia to step down in January and soon the Seleka, who once strutted confidently about the capital, were retreating north where they continue to persecute Christians. But as the anti-balaka gained the advantage elsewhere, village after village lost its Muslim population, their homes looted and mosques razed to the ground. The turning of the tide has left many Muslims feeling bitter towards French peacekeepers and the new president, Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian.

      Bangui neighbourhoods such as PK5, once thriving with Muslim businesses, now resemble ghost towns. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of market stalls and small shops were empty and deserted as a body lay in the road and gun-toting African peacekeepers patrolled in an armoured vehicle. Down side streets there were vehicles piled high with personal belongings. It is estimated that the Muslim population has dropped from around 7,000 to just 1,000 here.

      At the mosque where the five bodies lay, there was rage, coupled with confusion over whether the anti-balaka or Burundian peacekeepers were responsible for the deaths. "It is happening every day," said Abdouraman Saudi, 45, who has lost numerous businesses. "If you're Muslim and you try to leave PK5, you're a dead man. It's a prison."

      He vowed: "For me, it's finished. From today, we will not be the victims because we will attack the Christians. We are going to defend ourselves. From today with the international community, we don't care. We are not protected by them so we will attack them also."

      In another largely Muslim neighbourhood, PK12, families camp out in grass and mud with buckets, carpets, mattresses, discarded rubbish, cooking pots over charcoal fires and a constant fear of lobbed grenades. Convoys that try to get out of here must run the gauntlet of taunting Christian mobs. In one incident, a Muslim who fell from a vehicle was summarily lynched. In another, five children suffocated in an overcrowded truck and were found dead when the convoy arrived at Bangui's military airport.

      Ibrahim Alawad, 55, a lawyer, pointed to a trench and fresh burial mounds and said he had buried a 22-year-old student hours earlier. The area's population had shrunk from 25,000 people six months ago to 2,700 today, he said, while four mosques had been destroyed. "They're not killing the Muslims, they're sweeping them. Imagine someone wants to kill you, roast you on the fire and eat you. It's the hell of the hell. There are no living conditions here."

      French peacekeepers stood by at a near checkpoint but there was growing Muslim hostility towards them too. "Our problem is the French," Alawad said. "They are the white anti-balaka. It's like Rwanda, they want to do it again, but we won't let them."

      No amount of Muslim suffering appears to elicit mercy from the anti-balaka, who believe they are meeting a fitting punishment for the crimes of the Seleka. Dr Jean Chrysostome Gody, director of the country's sole paediatric hospital, which is supported by Unicef, recalled: "I saw mothers whose children had been killed or injured and they had hate in their heart."

      As the anti-balaka responded, he added, children were no longer caught in the crossfire but deliberately targeted. "There were bullets in the heads and chests of children. It's not possible they were there by accident. It's as if people are trying to finish off another race. It's about extreme revenge and it's brutal."

      One anti-balaka base is nicknamed "Boeing" because it is within close sight and sound of air traffic at Bangui airport. In a clearing shaded by trees amid modest mudbrick houses, six of the militia men sprawled on two squashy sofas. One wore a Barcelona football shirt with the name Messi on the back; another carried a bow and arrow; several had machetes. When a French patrol comes to disarm them every few days, they hide their weapons in the bush.

      Forgiveness is not in the lexicon here. Sebastien Wenezoui, 32, a civil engineer, said he helped instigate the anti-balaka after his parents and brothers were killed by the Seleka and their house torched. "I was shocked. Today you can see my feelings in what I'm doing now. I had to express myself. If you were me, would you be comfortable with those things?"

      Asked if he felt this justified the killing of innocent women and children, Wenezoui replied: "For me it's a response to what the Seleka have done. They started killing our children and wives and destroyed our homes. Revenge is good sometimes and bad sometimes. But we have to do it."

      Wenezoui expressed no regrets about the Muslim exodus. "I'm not sad at all because when Seleka took power the Muslims, who were our best friends, were the ones destroying the houses and killing people. It's a kind of lesson. They acted like betrayers so they have to go and learn something and come back with respectful behaviour."

      Yet sitting with Wenezoui and his colleagues was a Muslim: Ibrahim Amadou, 22, who said he joined the anti-balaka after his wife, three children, parents and seven siblings were shot dead by the Seleka. He still prays on Fridays but does so at home because fellow Muslims would recognise him at a mosque.

      "I cannot give all the details of what I'm doing," said Amadou, wearing an array of animal skin and leather charms around his neck and shoulders that he believes make him invisible to enemies. "I'm working for the country. A soldier is a soldier: he cannot give his secrets."

      Nearby, there is no sign of respite for tens of thousands of people squatting outside the international airport, fearful of going home in a city where the Red Cross said more than 10 people were killed in February, some found with their genitals stuffed in their mouths, and where grenades are said to be available at street markets for 250 CFA (31p) and Kalashnikov rifles for 10,000-15,000 CFA (£12-£18). There is a threat of the country splitting in two, and a fully fledged UN peacekeeping mission may be required to stop it.

      In the town of Boali, 60 miles to the north, the Catholic priest Xavier-Arnauld Fagba went from house to house and into the bush to offer Muslims sanctuary in his church. "When the Muslims were attacked, the people didn't help them," said Fagba, 31, who became a priest four months ago. "That's when I decided to look for them and bring them here. I did it in the name of my faith. My faith asks me to transcend the most difficult obstacles."

      Nearly 700 people took up his offer and moved into the church.

      But most local Christians disagreed with Fagba's courageous stand and one day his car was surrounded by anti-balaka armed with knives and machetes. He got out to show that he did not fear them and, just then, their commander called off the assault.

      In another incident last month, more than 300 anti-balaka surrounded the church and opened fire through its thinly protected walls. Fagba hurled himself to the ground and shouted at everyone else to do the same – and no one was killed or injured. He says some 30 bullet holes can still be seen in the church walls.

      The Muslims held prayers every Friday in the grounds of the 54-year-old church, and cleaned it early on Sunday mornings for the Christian service, which some even attended.

      But rebuilding bridges is a slow and painful process. Local officials tried to organise a peace march in which Muslims and Christians would walk together through the town, but when the Muslims arrived, the anti-balaka refused. "It's very sad because I thought it was the beginning of peace," Fagba said.

      On 1 March a convoy of trucks protected by African peacekeepers evacuated the inhabitants of the church, and took them to safety in Cameroon, leaving Boali with no Muslim inhabitants.

      Muslims Cleansed From CAR: UN
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Friday, 07 March 2014 00:00


      CAR: Life in the Midst of Horror
      By Amnesty International
      Friday, 07 March 2014 00:00


      Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera and Joanne Mariner report on the latest massacre in a town West of Bangui, where they saw the remains of dozens of men and women littering the streets and found an 11-year-old girl who had miraculously survived it all.

      As if the unfolding horror in the Central African Republic could not get any more shocking, the scene we witnessed in a remote town north-west of Bangui, left us stunned.

      We arrived in Bouguere on Feb. 13 to investigate a massacre that had taken place some three weeks earlier. More than 40 people had been killed by anti-balaka militias and most of the town’s Muslim residents had fled.

      But on arrival in the town nothing prepared us for what we found.

      Streets Littered with Bodies

      The streets were littered with bodies. We counted 21 including three women and even a baby. Dogs were feeding on some of the corpses. Some of the male victims were partially burned. The feet of one man had been tied together, evidence that that he had been taken prisoner before being executed. The residents said that there were more in the outskirts of the town.

      They had all been killed in an attack by anti-balaka militias on the morning of Feb. 10, just days before we arrived.

      The small bundles of clothing lying where some of the bodies were found meant that people were caught and killed as they tried to flee.

      The Muslim area of Bouguere was eerily empty. Most of the houses and businesses had been ransacked and some burned down. Those who had not been killed had fled.

      And then, we found her.

      Crouching in the corner of an abandoned house, a girl about 11 years old had survived it all. She had been there, alone, without food or water, for four days. She was terrified, could hardly speak and was so weak she could not even stand.

      She said her father was killed in the attack, and residents said her mother had been killed in an earlier assault. The girl was the only Muslim survivor and the Christian residents of the town begged us to take her. We took her to a place of safety.

      What happened in Bouguere was shocking, extremely disturbing, infuriating.

      Peacekeepers: Nowhere to be seen

      International peacekeepers were nowhere to be seen, even though the area had already witnessed violent confrontations between anti-balaka militias and Seleka forces resulting in the massacre of civilians three weeks earlier.

      It was one of those places where something tragic was expected to happen but somehow, the international forces, sent to protect civilians were nowhere to be seen.

      Boguere is a mining town, known for its gold and diamond trading, making it particularly attractive to looters.

      But these are revenge attacks. Previously, a notorious Seleka commander had made the town his home base, carrying out widespread human rights abuses against the local population and neighboring villages and towns.

      Christian residents recounted the abuses of the Seleka commander, saying that he once killed an entire family because the father had protected two men whom the commander did not like. It was the entire region’s fear and hatred of the commander, they said, that stoked the anger and thirst for revenge that lead to the recent attacks against the town’s Muslim population.

      He is believed to have been killed in the massacre on Jan. 24.

      Sadly, what happened in Bouguere is not an exception.

      “Where Can We Go?”

      The following day, as we drove south to the village of Boboua, we found three bodies lying in front of a mosque. They were the village's Muslim mayor, Adamou Dewa, his son Abu Bakr, and another Muslim resident named Abdou.

      As we left, a frantic group of Muslim residents emerged from their hideouts in the bush and flagged down our vehicle. They told us that anti-balaka fighters had attacked their village three hours earlier and killed the three men. They said that there were only 200 Muslims left and they were under serious threat.

      “We were born here,” one of them exclaimed, “where can we go?”

      It was only then that African Union peacekeepers were arriving to ascertain what had happened. Too late for the dead, and they were not going to stay. With no protection, the remaining Muslim residents will have to leave for their own safety.

      Muslims are being brutally murdered or driven away from most towns and villages.

      In Mbaiki, for example, only one Muslim family remained, out of a previous population of several thousand.

      In Yaloke, once home to an estimated 10,000 Muslims, only 742 remained as of Feb. 13.

      The Muslim community of Boda is being protected from attack by French peacekeeping forces, but only as they prepare to flee the country.

      The mass killing of civilians, destruction of homes, businesses, and mosques are being used by the anti-balaka to “ethnically cleanse” the Central African Republic of its Muslim population. These are crimes against humanity and war crimes.

      Massacres are a disturbing, common feature of the crisis in the Central African Republic. Day after day, men, women, and children have been killed with guns and machetes, some left to rot in the streets. Many of those horrors are documented in our latest briefing.

      Muslim areas are left empty as the population is forced to flee to neighboring countries.

      The International peacekeeping troops have all too often been absent when and where they are needed most. Their deployment has not kept up with the pace of rapidly changing developments on the ground. And at times they have been reluctant to challenge anti-balaka militias, and slow to protect the threatened Muslim minority.

      The international peacekeeping force must break the control of anti-balaka militias and station sufficient and well-supported troops in towns and villages where Muslims are threatened.

      Muslims flee attacks in CAR amid chaos
      Scenes of mayhem as Muslims terrified of anti-Balaka Christian militia scramble to board convey heading for Cameroon.
      Last updated: 02 Mar 2014 01:41


      Muslims fleeing violence in CAR attacked
      Convoy carrying families forced from their homes to Chad comes under fire from Christian anti-Balaka fighters.
      Last updated: 22 Feb 2014 01:10


      UN Launches Emergency Food Airlift to Central Africa
      BANGUI, Central African Republic, Feb 12, 2014 (AFP)


      Children caught in CAR conflict
      Majority of those affected by fighting between Christian and Muslim armed groups since 2012 are women and children.
      Last updated: 17 Feb 2014 03:33


      Christian threats force Muslim convoy to turn back in CAR exodus
      Peacekeepers prevent crammed cars from leaving Bangui for fear of attack, and evidence emerges of village massacre
      David Smith, Africa correspondent
      theguardian.com, Friday 14 February 2014 18.03 GMT


      Thousands of Muslims tried to flee the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR) on Friday, only for their mass convoy of cars and trucks to be turned back as crowds of angry Christians taunted: "We're going to kill you all."

      The drama unfolded as Amnesty International said it had uncovered evidence of a fresh massacre in a village where the sole surviving Muslim was an orphaned girl aged about 11, and France said it would send an extra 400 peacekeeping troops.

      Some cars were crammed with as many as 10 people as the convoy made its way through Bangui, the second such attempt to escape in a week, the Associated Press reported. Christians gathered along the road to shout abuse and threats.

      The convoy was turned back because African peacekeepers feared it would come under attack in some volatile parts of Bangui. The desperate procession was halted in the Miskine neighbourhood, where one vehicle tumbled into a ditch on the side of the road.

      On the orders of a Burundian captain, the peacekeepers went from vehicle to vehicle instructing everyone to return to a local mosque, according to an AP journalist at the scene.

      Lieutenant Rosana Nsengimana, of the African peacekeeping force known as Misca, said: "The convoy escorted by Burundian forces returned to its departure point because of a problem in a neighbourhood on the north end of the city where the Muslims would have had to pass through."

      The neighbourhood in question witnessed fresh fighting on Friday with at least one person killed in a grenade attack by Christian militiamen, according to witnesses at a nearby mosque. French peacekeepers had to rescue two other severely injured people from an baying crowd that had set tyres on fire and was shouting anti-Muslim and anti-French slogans.

      Muslims have increasingly been targeted by Christians who took up arms against a mostly Muslim rebel group known as the Seleka, which seized power in a coup a year ago, committing scores of atrocities along the way. The Christian militias, known as the anti-balaka, seem intent on what they perceive as vengeance.

      Amnesty has warned that a campaign of ethnic cleansing is causing a Muslim exodus. On Friday Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty, described the scene at a village in the north-west of the country.

      "We saw bodies littering the streets," she said. "Several of them had been partially burned. Others had been partly eaten by dogs and other animals. One was the body of a little baby who could not have been more than seven or eight months old. We saw more than 20 bodies but we think that there were several more.

      She continued: "All the houses of the Muslim population had been burned or looted and in one of the houses I found a little girl of about 11. She was the only Muslim survivor of the village: the others had either fled or been killed. She was crouching in a corner. She had been hiding there since the day of the massacre. She had not eaten or drunk anything. She was terrified and could not stand at all.

      "She said that her father had been killed and her mother had been killed. She was not speaking very much. There had not been any peacekeepers there at all even though this place was a place that had already seen confrontation between anti-balaka and Seleka forces earlier."

      The anti-balaka have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks, forcing tens of thousands of Muslims to flee for their lives. Most head to neighbouring Chad, which is predominantly Muslim.

      There have been almost daily killings of those who could not escape, their bodies mutilated and dragged through the streets despite the presence of peacekeepers.

      Muslims made up about 15% of the CAR's 4.6 million population before the present crisis. Now entire neighbourhoods of Bangui are empty. Only one mosque remains in the town of Yaloke, where previously there had been eight, according to Human Rights Watch. "The anti-balaka militias are increasingly organised and using language that suggests their intent is to eliminate Muslim residents," HRW said this week.

      Medecins Sans Frontieres said 1,000 people – mostly Muslim – were in danger in the south-west town of Carnot. "Armed men have announced that they intend to track down and kill all the city's Muslims," it said. "Anyone who hides Muslims is also at risk."

      Catherine Samba-Panza, the country's first female leader and a Christian who hopes to reach across the sectarian divide, vowed this week that her administration was "going to go to war against the anti-balaka". She said: "The anti-balaka have lost their sense of mission. They are now the ones who kill, who pillage, who are violent."

      But on Thursday Richard Bejouane, the self-proclaimed leader of the militias, warned her not to intervene. "Declaring war on the anti-balaka amounts to declaring war on the Central African population," he told hundreds of militiamen gathered in Bangui. Bejouane claims their ranks number 52,000, including 12,000 in the capital.

      International peacekeepers deployed in the country have failed to halt the violence. France said it would send an additional 400 troops to join its existing 1,600-strong force.

      Ethnic cleansing of CAR's Muslims alleged
      Rights group's report blames anti-Balaka fighters for attacks leading to "Muslim exodus of historic proportions".
      Last updated: 12 Feb 2014 15:56


      Deadly religious violence rocks CAR
      At least nine killed as mobs target Bangui's Muslims and properties owned by them despite presence of foreign troops.
      Last updated: 10 Feb 2014 03:29


      Christian Militias Slaughter CAR Muslims
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Thursday, 19 December 2013 00:00


      BANGUI – Destroyed mosques, slaughtered or evacuated families are some of the rare reports about anti-Muslim atrocities that found its way to the international media, while reporting on the unrest in Central Africa Republic.

      “Women, children, even pregnant women were slaughtered by the anti-Balaka,” Yahiya Abu Bakr, the chairman of a committee that oversees the local mosque in Bangui, told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Thursday, December 19.

      Testimonies on the atrocities committed by anti-Balaka Christian militias against CAR's Muslim community are rare in the international media.

      As fingers are always pointed at Muslim ex-rebels, Seleka, as the main culprit, vague or scant reports appeared about death toll among Muslims.

      Bashir, a 48-year-old Muslim who lives in the Christian-majority district of Fouh in Bangui, is one of the eyewitnesses of brutal anti-Muslims carnages that tore through the area earlier in December.

      “When the trouble started, the anti-Balaka attacked the Muslims in the area,” Bashir, wearing a traditional white dara (a long open cloak) and a white hat, said.

      “The local mosque was destroyed, just like my home.”

      The 48-year-old resident explained how his younger brother and three others were killed mercilessly before they could escape with their lives.

      “The machete hit him on the side of the neck,” he said.

      “There were so many people – not just anti-Balaka, but Christians from around the area,” Bashir added.

      A similar pain was shared by Abu Bakr, the mosque chairman, who confirmed that more than 108 Muslims from the region have been killed in recent violence.

      Abu Bakr has also claimed that attackers used to mutilate Muslim victims and their corpses.

      “The anti-Balaka cut off people's limbs,” he said.

      “I also saw bodies that had their genitals removed.

      “We perform the funeral prayers here, so I know about the injuries sustained by those that were killed,” he added.

      Biased French
      As the violence exacerbates, CAR Muslims accuse French peacekeeping troops of taking the side of the Christian militias.

      “We don't trust the French because we've seen their one-sided actions,” said Umar Hussain, a Muslim businessman.

      The French troops have been turning deaf ears to atrocities against Muslims, watching Muslims killed in cold blood, other witnesses added.

      “They are the troublemakers!” Umar Didi, an eyewitness, shouted.

      “People were killed in front of French soldiers who did nothing.”

      “How can they just leave people to be slaughtered – and watch while it takes place?” asked Hussain.

      About 1,600 French troops, which are reinforcing a stretched African peacekeeping mission, started deploying to the north and east of the country earlier on December to secure main roads and towns outside the capital.

      As the attacks intensified in CAR, many Muslims were forced to leave their villages, living in makeshift camps or mosques.

      Taking shelter into a Bangui mosque, a Muslim mother tells the story of how her four innocent children were slaughtered before her.

      “They killed four of my children: two sons and two daughters,” said Salma, a mother of the slain children who were aged ten, eight, six and two.

      “My father and mother were also killed in the attack,” the mother added.

      Meanwhile, Amnesty International has released a report on Thursday, following its two-week mission the restive country, saying that ‘crimes against humanity were committed by all parties to the conflict’.

      The sectarian war has led to the displacement of 614,000 people across the country and 189,000 in the capital alone, according to the Amnesty.

      Moreover, Human Rights Watch has also urged the UN to send peacekeeping mission to restore security in CAR.

      CAR, a country of nearly five million people, is mostly Christian, with about 15 percent Muslims who are concentrated in the north where the rebellion started.

      The different religions have always coexisted peacefully and leaders from both sides have urged people not to confuse the fact that there is a Muslim leader, with the “Islamization” of the country.

      Despite of current woes, Muslims in the African nation have asserted their hopes of restoring peace in their country one day, where Muslims and Christians lived in harmony for decades.

      “We want peace,” Abu Bakr stressed.

      “We are ready to call for it, but the anti-Balaka are the ones that are doing the provocations by killing Muslims and destroying mosques.”