“There’s been a deliberate target of women and children. At least by the Christian Anti-Balaka, they don’t care if it’s women or children, if it’s Muslim they kill them.”
London based journalist, Assed Baig was in the Central African Republic’s (CAR) capital Bangui in December. He spoke to Cii Radio about the violence against Muslims and how it has spiralled to levels that could reach genocide.
More than half of the country’s 4.6 million people are in need of assistance and almost 1 million have been forced to flee since clashes began. What began as a rebellion by mostly-Muslim Seleka rebels to drive out then president Francois Bozize, has led to a clear conflict between Christians and Muslims.
“… they [Muslims] are suffering because people feel that because the Seleka were mainly Muslim, [all the] Muslims are somehow answerable for what the rebel groups did. And it’s not actually the case,” explained Baig.
Seleka were responsible for numerous atrocities at the time of the coup and after being disbanded by Michel Djotodia – CAR’s first Muslim president, who stepped into power in April 2013. While citizens were happy to be rid of Bozize’s corrupt government, tensions slowly began to rise once Muslims were given access to positions they were once denied.
“When the conflict started it wasn’t fought on the basis of religion, however Muslims have traditionally been discriminated against in the CAR … and the Christians were oblivious to this when this was taking place… When the Seleka came to power suddenly the minority Muslims in the country could get government positions, could get roles – so some of them turned a blind eye to the crimes of the Seleka.”
Anti – Balaka, the Christian rebel group have been targeting any and all Muslims ever since Djotodia’s 9-month rule ended. Despite the “old French colonial power’s” intervention, bloodshed hasn’t abated. Parts of Bangui are deserted and Muslims are fleeing because the capital has become a very tense and unsafe place for them.
Djotodia finally stepped down from power about two weeks ago under mounting international pressure.
Several Muslims that Baig spoke to said the French had been disarming Muslims and not the anti – Balaka rebels. French troops stood by and watched while Muslims were murdered. This has increased Muslim distrust in the French and given rise to demonstrations against French presence in Bangui.
“In some cases what the French did was stop people in the street, disarm them and leave them there, so the Christian mobs would see this person disarmed, even if he [Muslim citizen] was carrying a knife, he may not have been Seleka and then they lynched these people in front of the French troops and the French didn’t do anything. These people were chopped up alive. So the French could have easily disarmed them…”
Baig is cynical about whether the French are there to bring stability to a shaken nation. The land-locked country, despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, is rich in mineral and other resources, such as uranium, crude oil, gold, diamonds, lumber and hydropower, as well as arable land.
“There are so many forces involved in the CAR, it’s hard to tell what’s going on and what they’re there for… We need to look at the colonial past of the CAR and no country, east or western country, in my opinion intervenes unless they have an interest and I don’t think the interest is simply just to stop violence,” said Baig, “France happens to have a lot of nuclear power stations. That’s a fact and whether this is part of the reason that the French have sent in their military, I think we’ll find out as time goes by.”
Meanwhile, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza took her oath of office on Thursday, January 23. She has pledged to bring peace and unity to the anarchic country as looters in the streets continue pillaging Muslim neighbourhoods and openly lynching Muslims, attacking and beheading children and burning bodies in the streets. Reports of cannibalism against Muslims continue to surface.
“I said to a fellow journalist, ‘even animals kill for a reason’ and these people are just being murdered… They were being chopped up alive. And some of them even after they had been killed, people were chopping off their arms and legs and their genitals, who does that? What level of hatred do you have to have to be able to chop people’s genitals and hands and feet off? “
A clear language of hatred has been sewn in the CAR. African peacekeeping force, MISCA is not large enough to deal with the problem. Only around 4,000 of the promised 6,000 African troops have been deployed, mostly in the capital Bangui.
“I think that the only time you will see peace is when people want peace more than anything else and right now it feels like the majority in the conflict are the people that are carrying out these attacks, they just have revenge on their mind and they’re killing everyone that’s Muslim whether they were a part of Seleka or not.”
S Suliman – Cii News |