Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Central African Republic: Interim president must rein in “out of control” militias as Muslims forced to flee

Source: Amnesty

The new interim President of the Central African Republic must urgently rein in the “out of control” anti-balaka militias currently forcing scores of people from Muslim communities to leave the country in a bid to escape terrifying abuse, Amnesty International said.

Catherine Samba Panza was appointed by the interim parliament as interim President of the African nation today.

“People from Muslim communities feel totally unprotected from anti-balaka attacks and terrified about what might happen to them if they stay in the country. Even those who were born in the Central African Republic and have never set foot outside of the country are now trying to escape to Chad,” said Joanne Mariner Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International, who is currently in the Central African Republic.

“Reining in the anti-balaka militia and ensuring the Muslim population is safe from attack must be a top priority for interim president Catherine Samba Panza.”

Over the past ten days, it has been reported that hundreds of Muslims have been victims of attacks, including unlawful killings, with many being forced to leave their homes.

Amnesty International researchers visited the town of Boali, north of the country’s capital Bangui, on Sunday and found that the town’s Muslim neighborhoods were empty.

Most of the Muslim community had fled the town the previous week after an anti-balaka attack that took place on Friday, in which five Muslims were killed.

Those left behind, up to 850 people, are taking refuge in a local church that was protected by French and African Union peacekeepers. All those interviewed by Amnesty International said they wanted to leave the town to seek safety outside of the Central African Republic, believing that it would not be safe for them to stay.

People from Muslim communities are also reported to have fled in large numbers from the towns of Bossembele, Yakole, and Boyali, as well as many smaller villages, and numerous neighborhoods around Bangui.

Thousands are regrouping on the outskirts of Bangui in a traditionally Muslim neighborhood in the PK12 area. Some are organizing convoys to flee to Chad and Cameroon while others have gathered around the mosque awaiting the opportunity to escape to safety.

Some convoys have faced ambush by anti-balaka militia while attempting to leave the country. Last Friday, 22 civilians, including three children, were killed outside the town of Bouar when their vehicle was attacked. Many of the victims were hacked to death with machetes.

Approximately 1,000 people, mostly from the Christian community, were killed in early December 2013 by the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka forces. However, since the deployment of French forces on 6 December and the subsequent deployment of additional peacekeeping forces, as well as the resignation of former interim President Michel Djotodia on 10 January, the ex-Seleka have lost power rapidly. Many ex-Seleka forces have reportedly left the towns and villages they previously controlled.

On the surface, with the ex-Seleka’s loss of power, the security situation in most of the country appears to be improving. In Bangui, shops and markets have re-opened and in the countryside, many displaced people from the Christian community are returning to their villages after spending weeks or even months hiding in the bush.

“The atrocities carried out by the ex-Seleka can in no way justify the brutal attacks we’re seeing now. The new government must act immediately to ensure that everyone in CAR, Christians and Muslims, enjoy basic security,” said Joanne Mariner.