‘Ethnic cleansing’ in Central African Republic
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – The exodus of tens of thousands of Muslims from Central African Republic amounts to “ethnic cleansing”, a top United Nations official and Amnesty International said today.
The rights group warned that the sectarian bloodshed now underway despite the presence of thousands of peacekeepers is a “tragedy of historic proportions”.
In a visit to the lawless capital of Bangui, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said “ethnic-religious cleansing” threatened to tear apart the country, and he called for the international community to help the nation’s nascent interim government restore order.
His trip comes a day after the U.N. chief used his strongest language yet to describe the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
“We cannot just continue to say ‘never again’. This, we have said so many times,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late yesterday. “We must act concertedly and now to avoid continued atrocities on a massive scale.”
More than 1 000 Christians and Muslims have been killed since sectarian fighting erupted in early December and nearly one million in this country of 4.6 million have fled their homes.
The country’s Muslim minority, about 15 per cent of the population, has come under growing attack from not only Christian militiamen but also from mobs of civilians who have carried out public killings on a nearly daily basis in recent weeks. In most cases, the bodies of Muslim victims were mutilated and sometimes dragged through the streets or set on fire.
For months, U.N. and French officials have warned that genocide could be looming in Central African Republic, and Amnesty’s use of the term “ethnic cleansing” is among the strongest language invoked yet to describe the inter-communal violence now wracking the country.
Amnesty International said that while it is a big step to use the term, it is justified “given the level of violent and purposeful forced displacement we’ve been seeing”, said Joanne Mariner, senior crisis adviser for the organization in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic.
The wave of violence against Muslim civilians is being committed by Christian militiamen known as the anti-Balaka, or anti-machete, who stepped up their attacks as a Muslim rebel government crumbled in January. Rights groups at the time warned that the Muslim minority would be especially vulnerable to retaliatory attacks as many Christians blamed them for supporting the brutal Muslim regime of the Seleka rebels who seized power in March 2013.