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'Ethnic Cleansing' of Muslims in Central Africa

LIBREVILLE: "Ethnic cleansing" is being carried out against Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic, with international peacekeepers unable to prevent it, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. France's defence minister earlier called on international forces deployed in the Christian-majority country to put an end to attacks by the militias "by force if needed". Amnesty said it had documented at least 200 killings of Muslim civilians by Christian militia groups known as the anti-balaka, set up in the wake of the March 2013 coup by the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebellion. (Inset: Burning/looting of Muslim property and a mosque in PK 26 area, north of the capital Bangui in late January.© Amnesty International)

"Ethnic cleansing' of Muslims has been carried out in the western part of the Central African Republic, the most populous part of the country, since early January 2014," Amnesty International said in a report. "Entire Muslim communities have been forced to flee, and hundreds of Muslim civilians who have not managed to escape have been killed by the loosely organised militias known as anti-balaka." 


The group said attacks against Muslims had been committed "with the stated intent to forcibly displace these communities from the country," with many anti-balaka fighters viewing Muslims as "'foreigners' who should leave the country or be killed". "They appear to be achieving their aims, with Muslims being forced out of the country in increasingly large numbers," it said.

The impoverished country descended into chaos last March after the rebellion overthrew the government, sparking deadly violence that has uprooted a million people out of a population of 4.6 million. Atrocities, the fear of attacks and a lack of food have displaced a quarter of the country's population, while the United Nations and relief agencies estimate that at least two million people need humanitarian assistance. The landlocked country has been prone to coups, rebellions and mutinies for decades, but the explosion in interreligious violence is unprecedented.

Amnesty urged international peacekeeping forces in the country to "take rapid steps to break anti-balaka control over the country's road network, and to station sufficient troops in towns where Muslims are threatened". It called for international troops to be granted the necessary resources to achieve this, warning of a "tragedy of historic proportions" that could set a precedent for other countries in the region struggling with sectarian or ethnic conflict.

Amnesty International criticized the international community’s tepid response to the crisis, noting that international peacekeeping troops have been reluctant to challenge anti-balaka militias, and slow to protect the threatened Muslim minority. “International peacekeeping troops have failed to stop the violence,” said Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International.“They have acquiesced to violence in some cases by allowing abusive anti-balaka militias to fill the power vacuum created by the Seleka’s departure.” 

“The result is a Muslim exodus of historic proportions.” To escape the anti-balaka’s deadly attacks, the entire Muslim populace has fled from numerous towns and villages while in others, the few who remain have taken refuge in and around churches and mosques.

International concern over the sectarian nature of the violence in the CAR led the UN Security Council in December 2013 to authorize the deployment of peacekeeping forces to the country. Those forces—comprised of about 5,500 African Union troops, known as MISCA, and 1,600 French troops, known as “Sangaris”—have been deployed within Bangui and to several towns north and southwest of the capital.
Even in the PK 5 neighbourhood at the centre of Bangui's Muslim community, thousands of frightened people are packing up and leaving home.

Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is a mediator in the conflict, said for his part: "It is the duty of the international community to act with more firmness and diligence to end the reign of barbarism." In New York, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon told reporters: "The sectarian brutality is changing the country's demography. The de facto partition of the C.A.R. is a distinct risk." 

He added: "The international response does not yet match the gravity of the situation."We must do more to prevent more atrocities, protect civilians, restore law and order, provide humanitarian assistance and hold the country together."

For the Amnesty Report in Full, click here 

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