CAIRO – Anti-Balaka fighters in the Central African Republic are trying to "ethnically cleanse Muslims", a leading international human rights organization has warned, accusing peacekeeping forces of failing to protect the threatened Muslim minority.
“Anti-balaka militias are carrying out violent attacks in an effort to ethnically cleanse Muslims in the Central African Republic,” Joanne Mariner, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International said in the report released on the group’s site on Tuesday, February 11.
“The result is a Muslim exodus of historic proportions.”
The report, released on Tuesday, is based on over one hundred first-hand testimonies of large-scale anti-balaka attacks on Muslim civilians in CAR's northwest towns of Bouali, Boyali, Bossembele, Bossemptele, and Baoro, Amnesty said.
The group added it had documented at least 200 killings of Muslim civilians by Christian militia groups known as the anti-balaka, set up after the March 2013 coup by the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebellion.
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”.
The rights group also said that the attacks against Muslims were committed with the government intending to forcibly displace the Muslims from the country.
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.
The journey to safety is difficult and dangerous. Convoys are frequently attacked by anti-balaka militia.
The story of how a small boy called Abdul Rahman lost his entire family was one of the evidences on ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim population.
On January 14, the boy was travelling in a truck with six members of his family.
At an anti-balaka checkpoint, they demanded that all the Muslim passengers get off; killing all the members of his family, including three women and three small children, one of them was a toddler, he told Amnesty International.
The most lethal attack documented by Amnesty International took place on 18 January in Bossemptele, where at least 100 Muslims were killed. Among the dead were women and old men, including an imam in his mid-70s.
Amnesty International criticized the international community’s tepid response to the crisis, noting that 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 impoverished country has been engulfed in a bloody sectarian violence involving Christians and Muslims since last year.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in the Central African Republic since last December, when Christian militias launched coordinated attacks against the mostly Muslim Seleka group, which toppled the government in March 2013.
Going from door to door, anti-balaka Christian militias have raided Muslim homes killing children and women and looting and vandalizing properties, the UN report revealed.
African peacekeeping force MISCA has already deployed some 5,400 of 6,000 planned troops to CAR. Another 1,600 French soldiers are also on the ground in the country.
“The urgency of the situation demands an immediate response,” said Joanne Mariner.
“It is time for the peacekeeping operation in CAR to protect the civilian population, deploy to threatened areas, and stop this forced exodus.”
Worried by the unfolding crisis, Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is a mediator in the conflict, said, “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 CAR is a distinct risk.”
“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,” he added.
Related Links:Bangui Imam Vows to Stay in CAR
Anti-Muslim Violence Escalates in CAR
Muslims Burnt in CAR's Bangui Streets
Reprisal Attacks Target CAR Muslims
Militias Kill Muslims Fleeing CAR