UN fears genocide as French act on war in Central Africa
Bodies were left lying in the streets of the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR) as at least 100 people were killed in sectarian fighting, prompting warnings from aid agencies that the country stands on "the brink".
At least 50 corpses were taken directly to morgues in Bangui yesterday, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres, which sent a team to help with an influx of wounded. A spokesperson said the teams treated around 70 people with "serious" injuries including "wounds caused by gunshots, or weapons like machetes".
The escalation in violence prompted a swift reaction at the United Nations where the Security Council unanimously approved the deployment of thousands of French and African Union troops to the troubled country.
CAR has been gradually slipping into lawlessness since March when then-rebel Muslim fighters overthrew the government of the Christian president, Francois Bozize. Michel Djotodia, the Muslim leader of the alliance known as Seleka, is now the interim president of the Christian-majority country, but has struggled to control fighters who are only loosely allied to his power base.
Many of those who helped him overthrow the Bozize government are mercenaries from Chad and Sudan.
In response to the coup, local Christian militias – known as "anti-balaka" (or "anti-machete") – have formed and as their numbers swelled, clashes with Seleka groups have taken on increasing ferocity. It is believed that yesterday's violence began early in a neighbourhood that has remained loyal to Bozize.
"There has been gunfire all over town," said Amy Martin, head of the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs in Bangui. It was also reported that the area had come under attack from Seleka fighters.
Both sides blamed each other for the violence. Djotodia accused Bozize loyalists of mounting the attack and ordered an overnight curfew.
General Arda Hakouma, his head of security, said anti-balaka forces were also involved.
"There are many of them. Some of them are well armed with rifles and rocket launchers. Others are dressed in civilian clothes with machetes," he said. There were widespread reports of children participating in the violence.
"When Seleka entered, there were dead Christians. This time it could be worse . . . We need the French. The French have to come quickly," Wilfred Koyamba, a Bangui resident, said.
Another resident said he saw a group of about 40 heavily armed "anti-balaka" fighters in the Ngaragba neighbourhood break open the prison doors there. One of the fighters told the source: "Stay at home. Show us the houses of the Muslims."
Speaking to the BBC, the UN's special representative in CAR, Babacar Gaye, said there is a danger of mass killings in Bangui if nothing is done to stop the violence.
Exact figures for the number of dead could not be verified. Reuters news agency reported that at least 105 people had been killed yesterday, and many, it said, were civilians. Aid groups said that non-combatants were being deliberately attacked and that there was evidence of targeted killings.
"We've received numerous reports from very credible sources of extrajudicial executions," said Joanne Mariner, a crisis expert with Amnesty International. "This underscores the need for international troops."
As recently as a fortnight ago, France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned that the former French colony was "on the verge of genocide". Yesterday's clashes were reported to be the heaviest since March. (© Independent News Service)