MORE than 1500 French troops have been sent to the Central
African Republic in the past week, where sectarian violence has
killed hundreds, and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes
in the former French colony.
The soldiers were dispatched in response to fresh outbreaks of
fighting between Muslim former rebels, known as the Seleka, and
Christian groups who say that they are defending themselves from
On Monday night, two French soldiers were killed near the
airport in the capital, Bangui, in a clash with unidentified
About half of the country's population of 4.6 million are
Christians, but in March the Muslim Seleka, led by Michel Djotodia,
overthrew the government of President François Bozizé, and took
power. Attempts to disband the militias have failed, and communal
violence has broken out across the nation. So-called "anti-balaka"
(anti-machete) Christian self-defence groups have sprung up to
fight against the former Seleka rebels.
The French intervention is backed by a UN Security Council
resolution, and will support an existing 2500-strong African Union
peacekeeping force. Reports from Bangui describe bodies lying in
the streets, and civilians seeking refuge in the peacekeepers'
Human Rights Watch says that a Seleka force in the north-western
town of Bossangoa marched on a Roman Catholic camp, which housed
some 35,000 Christians. A massacre was avoided only after
intervention by African peacekeepers.
Fr Frédéric Tonfio, Vicar-General of the RC diocese of
Bossangoa, told the BBC that he believed that the situation could
easily become a genocide. A BBC reporter in the city said that a
number of Muslims were killed when the house of an imam was
attacked by a Christian militia group. Up to 7000 Muslims are
sheltering in the opposite side of the town to the Christians.
Abel Nguerefara, who lives in Bangui, told the AP news agency:
"Thanks to France and the United Nations who want to save the
Central Africans, soon the Seleka attacks on civilians will stop.
We have had enough of Seleka killing, raping and stealing."
Nevertheless, three days of revenge attacks from anti-balaka
Christian fighters in Bangui have left at least 394 dead, Reuters
The UN says that up to 460,000 Central Africans have been forced
from their homes, and that a million need urgent food aid. David
Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, which is
working in the country, said that the intensity of the violence and
the "unspeakable cruelty" had forced it to suspend relief
The Red Cross announced on Saturday that it had provided beans,
maize, oil, and other essential food supplies for 20,000 people who
have taken refuge in Bangui. "We're extremely concerned about the
situation here," said Arnaud de Baecque, deputy head of the Red
Cross in Bangui. "We call on the authorities to do their utmost to
protect the population."
The charity Médicins Sans Frontières said on Saturday that it
was treating about 14,000 people in Bangui, mostly for gunshot
wounds or injuries caused by machetes and knives.
In a statement, UNICEF warned that children were being drawn
into the conflict. The agency's executive director, Anthony Lake,
referred to "the targeting of children" and "outrages" against
A spokesman for the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, issued an
urgent appeal to all parties: "This horrific cycle of violence and
retaliation must stop immediately. . . Those responsible for grave
violations must be brought to justice."