DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The considerable violence and suffering in the Central African Republic (CAR) has not been stopped by the presence of French and African troops and the relief efforts of aid agencies and may grow even worse, human rights groups said on Thursday.
The mineral-rich nation has been paralysed by violence since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in March. Their time in power has been marked by killings, looting and other abuses, prompting Christian militias to take up arms against them.
The militias and other gunmen loyal to Bozize attacked the capital two weeks ago, resulting in hundreds of deaths from gunfire, machete attacks and even stoning and deepening the sectarian nature of the conflict, according to an Amnesty International report issued on Thursday.
The scale of the killing since the latest bout of violence erupted on Dec. 5 may have been underestimated, Amnesty said. The United Nations estimated earlier that some 450 people had been killed in Bangui and 150 in the rest of the country.
“Anti-balaka (anti-government) forces [in Bangui] went door to door and killed approximately 60 Muslim men. The ex-Seleka (government forces) retaliated on a larger scale against Christians in the wake of the attack, killing nearly 1,000 men over a two-day period and systematically looting civilian homes,” the Amnesty report said.
France deployed 1,600 troops to its former colony on Dec. 5 to prevent worsening violence between Christian militias and the Seleka forces, but killings continue on a regular basis, the report said.
“Despite the presence of French and African military forces meant to protect the civilian population, civilians are being wilfully killed on a daily basis, with at least 90 additional people killed since 8 December,” Amnesty said.
One week ago French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian told France 2 television that the current force of French and African soldiers in the CAR was sufficient to stabilise the situation there.
Amnesty International is calling for the rapid deployment of a robust U.N. peacekeeping force with a clear mandate to protect civilians – and enough resources to do so effectively – to prevent further war crimes and crimes against humanity in the CAR, the report said.
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS DEEPENS
In a separate report, Human Rights Watch said that lack of security outside the capital was facilitating an escalation of sectarian violence and atrocities throughout the country and making it difficult for aid agencies to help victims of the conflict.
Anti-balaka atrocities have been particularly widespread in Ouham province, north of Bangui, where anti-balaka forces killed several hundred Muslim residents, burned their homes and stole or killed their cattle, a precious source of income and wealth, the report said.
One Muslim woman, a nomadic cattle herder, told HRW that she was forced to watch as anti-balaka fighters cut the throats of her 3-year-old son, two other boys aged 10 and 14, and an adult relative - all the Muslim males in the cattle camp, the report said.
The ex-Seleka forces in Ouham province retreated to Bossangoa after suffering significant losses in the militia attacks on them. In Bossangoa they wreaked revenge on Christian residents, killing many and setting fire to their homes, the report said.
The latest killings in Bossangoa’s Boro district are one small part of a much broader upheaval taking place in the Central African Republic.
“Humanitarian relief workers in northern Central African Republic have found it difficult to provide assistance, particularly emergency medical aid, as violence – some targeting the aid workers themselves – impedes an effective response to the crisis,” the report said.
More than 750,000 people have been uprooted since the current crisis began a year ago. In Bangui alone, some 210,000 people have been displaced over the past two weeks, U.N. Refugee Agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
On Monday, the CEO of the U.N. World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin, said that a quarter of the Central African Republic’s population risked going hungry because of fighting between Christian and Muslim militias, which was making it difficult for humanitarian agencies to distribute food and other supplies.
It will be difficult to address the enormous humanitarian catastrophe in the country without some measure of security, Human Rights Watch said.
The African Union has promised to deploy up to 6,000 troops in a new peacekeeping force which is due to take control of the Central African Republic later on Thursday.
France has called on the European Union to send more troops to bolster the Franco-African military alliance.