By Sarvat N. Hanif, WEEKLY PULSE MAGAZINE, February 24, 2014
Religiously-motivated violence continues to consume the population of Bangui in Central African Republic (CAR). The endemic rise of revenge killings of Muslims continues to perpetuate one of the bloodiest religious conflicts in Africa’s recent memory.
Moving from one area to another, Christian mobs have been targeting Muslim places of worship in Central Africa, killing Muslims and looting their belongings, as violence rocked the restive country. Of the 36 mosques that had originally stood in Bangui, today they are less than 10.
Indiscriminate killings and raids have become a norm, which has gone ignored by most media outlets. Due to a lack of international attention, CAR Christians have been able to get away with campaign targeted to kill Muslims.
Over the past weeks, thousands of terrified civilian Muslims fled to escape killings, looting and harassment by armed militias drawn from the Christian majority in the city. Their flight follows months of escalating attacks on Muslims in the strife-torn republic.
Going from door-to-door, anti-Balaka Christian militias have raided Muslim homes killing children and women and looting and vandalizing properties, the UN report revealed. Yet, over the past days, mosques became their latest target as Christian mobs raided a mosque in Bangui, the capital of the troubled Central African Republic last Tuesday.
Christians, who constitute the majority of CARs population, accuse Muslims of supporting former Seleka rebels who ousted Francois Bozize, a Christian, last March and installed Michel Djotodia as interim president. Bozize came to power in a 2003 coup.
For months, the country has been plagued by tit-for-tat sectarian violence between the anti-Balaka and former Seleka fighters.
In January, Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian serving as Bangui mayor at the time, was elected by the country’s interim parliament as new interim president. On January 24, a Muslim former minister was hacked to death by machete-wielding Christian militiamen in the capital sparking fresh clashes in the civil war-torn country.
Since then, Muslims have been targeted with increasing frequency. The worst violence documented was in the northern town of Bossemptele, where at least 100 Muslims were killed in January. Among the dead were women and old men, including an imam in his mid-70s. Other northwestern towns where Muslims communities have been attacked include Bouali, Boyali and Baoro.
Yaloké, a major gold trading centre, had an estimated Muslim population of 30,000 and eight mosques prior to the conflict. When Human Rights Watch visited the town last week, fewer than 500 Muslims and one mosque remained. Muslim residents gathered at the mosque, protected by French peacekeepers, while Christian militias and residents looted and destroyed their homes and mosques.
In Bangui, anti-Balaka fighters, armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, attacked numerous Muslim areas, forcing the population to flee. These neighborhoods are now ghost towns.
Muslims were lynched by a mob of angry Christians in Bangui before the Rwandan contingent of African peacekeeping force MISCA intervened to save others from similar fates. A Muslim man was pulled off a truck heading to Chad and lynched by a Christian mob that later set his body on fire. Over the past weeks, anti-Balaka Christian militias have raided Muslim homes killing children and women and looting and vandalizing properties.
Along with killing, kidnapping, torture and arbitrary arrest and detention, in the war-torn CAR, a UN investigation found evidences of sexual violence. A case of cannibalism has been reported too when a video showed a Christian man chewing the flesh of a Muslim driver killed in Christian mob.
Amnesty International reports that Christian militia attacks in Bangui, Central African Republic have led to a Muslim exodus. An estimated 50,000 Muslims – many of them CAR nationals – have been flown out of Bangui’s military airport on evacuation flights organised by Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Senegal. Tens of thousands have fled in road convoys, frequently attacked by anti-Balaka forces.
Thousands of traders are escaping attacks, which has worsened the nation’s humanitarian crisis. Communal violence has already devastated the country, and more than a million people are suffering from hunger and need food. With the current scenario of militia attacks and ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the nation is headed towards worse turmoil and a food emergency.
The report of Amnesty International calls the Muslim exodus from CAR a historic ethnic cleansing. International peacekeepers have “failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians in the western part of the Central African Republic,” the group said.
Muslims are taking refuge in camps in CAR. Thousands of Muslims are escaping to the neighboring countries of Cameroon and Chad. Those who were not able to flee the country aboard huge lorries bound for neighbouring Chad sheltered at mosques and waited for armed escorts to take them out of Bangui.
Amnesty International reports that the fleeing Muslims ran food markets and were traders in CAR. Therefore, the food markets collapsed, leading to food crisis. According to the UN, 90 percent of the population is eating just one meal a day.
Another rights group, Human Rights Watch, also warned Wednesday (February 12) that the country’s minority Muslim population is “being targeted in a relentless wave of coordinated violence that is forcing entire communities to leave the country.”
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said: “At this rate … there will be no Muslims left in much of the CAR. People whose families have peacefully lived in the country for centuries are being forced to leave.”
Powers best placed to do something about the plight of the African Muslims—namely USA, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the OIC—have adopted a conspicuous silence. According to Amnesty International, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in CAR has been historic and diplomats have failed to prevent it from happening.
Even the French peacekeeping forces deployed to cripple the ongoing fighting in CAR have been accused of turning a deaf ear to atrocities against Muslims, watching Muslims killed in cold blood.
The peacemakers and the French have failed to control violence, and now the attacks are hampering the relief effort. Amnesty International claimed some of the international peacekeepers “have acquiesced to violence in some cases by allowing abusive anti-Balaka militias to fill the power vacuum created by the Seleka’s departure”.
There are about 1,600 French troops on the ground, alongside about 6,000 soldiers from an African Union-led peacekeeping force, known as MISCA.
The United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterress, commented that the “ethnic-religious cleansing” is partitioning the nation of CAR, and it needs international intervention to restore peace. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said that an action of intervention is a necessity to stop the atrocities.
The UN accused Christian fighters who armed themselves to retaliate against Muslim rebels of contributing to a “climate of complete impunity.”
Amnesty International has warned that the sectarian bloodshed now underway is a “tragedy of historic proportions” that could set a dangerous precedent for other countries in the region.