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Central Africa: UN warns of genocide

08 November 2013


Gutted: homes said to have burnt by armed rebels are seen in a village near Bossangoa, in September 

Gutted: homes said to have burnt by armed rebels are seen in a village near Bossangoa, in September 

THE UN has described the Central African Republic, where armed groups of Christians and Muslims are battling for supremacy, as a virtually lawless country.

The Islamic rebel group Seleka seized control of the mineral-rich former French colony in March, but human-rights groups say that both sides may have committed war crimes. About half the 4.6 million population is Christian, about 15 per cent Muslim, and the remainder have various indigenous beliefs.

The UN Security Council received a briefing last Friday from officials, including Adama Dieng, a UN special adviser for the prevention of genocide. He later told reporters: "We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion. My feeling is that this will end with Christian communities and Muslim communities' killing each other. If we don't act now, and decisively, I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring."

The African Union plans a 3600-strong peacekeeping mission, known as MISCA, but it is unlikely to be operational before 2014, and the Security Council is considering support for MISCA, including converting it into a UN peacekeeping operation.

The French Ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said: "This country is now simply plundered, looted, the women are raped, people are killed by thugs. The country has fallen into anarchy.

"More and more you have inter-sectarian violence because the Seleka targeted the churches and the Christians; so now the Christians have created self-defence militias, and they are retaliating against the Muslims."

France has a small force in the capital, Bangui, securing the airport and its local interests, and is considering increasing its numbers.

A BBC reporter who reached Bossangoa, the birthplace of the deposed president, Francois Bozize, now in the rebels' heartland, described it as a "ghost town": only the Roman Catholic mission was active, functioning as a market and camp for displaced people.

The refugees claim that they are detained and beaten or shot if they are identified as members of the Christian militia Anti-balaka ("anti-machete"). One young man told the BBC: "I want to become a rebel and kill members of Seleka. We suffered too much."

The UNHCR estimates that about 200,000 people are internally displaced, and another 70,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.

The Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, the first Muslim to rule the republic as Interim President, has promised to hold democratic elections and to disband Seleka.

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