The violence in the Central African Republic is increasingly taking on religious overtones. Tens of thousands are fleeing, and at least 30,000 people are waiting for help in the town of Bossangoa alone – so far in vain.
The signs of fighting are already visible 90 kilometers from Bossangoa, hometown of toppled President François Bozizé. There are burnt-out houses everywhere, with clothes and household objects lying strewn in front of them. Chickens, goats, and cows wander through abandoned fields and villages. The air is deadly silent, broken only by bird song.
A few weeks ago, this spot, around 300 kilometers north of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, was the scene of fierce fighting between fighters for the Séléka movement and supporters of the ousted president. At least a hundred people were killed, many more injured, and houses were plundered and burnt down. Tens of thousands fled the violence and are now still homeless.
„People fled into the bush,“ one man reported from a village around 40 kilometers from Bossangoa. „They are mainly living on cassava leaves.“ There is little more to be found, and he is convinced that many of them will starve. He estimates that at least 20 inhabitants of his village were killed in the September clashes.
Peace troops need support
The Central African Republic has found no peace since Bozizé’s fall at the end of March. Rebels of the Séléka alliance accused him of breaking a peace treaty agreed on in January that promised them participation in a government of national unity. The coup took place on March 24 and Séléka leader, Michel Djotodia, declared himself the new president. In August, he was duly sworn in.
Though Djotodia has since disbanded the alliance and ordered fighters to disarm, violence is continuing. The aid organization Doctors Without Borders has even said that the conflict is escalating, while the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Last week (10.10.2013), the UN passed a resolution to send a troop of blue-helmets to the country, whose first duty will be to support the peacekeeping force provided by the African Union (MISCA) – until now a lack of funds has meant that only 1,400 of the promised 3,600 AU soldiers have arrived.
In the meantime, many parts of the Central African Republic are in a state of anarchy. The region around Bossongoa is particularly lawless and violent. At least 30,000 people are living in acute conditions in the town itself, says Doctors Without Borders. Most of these have taken refuge in and around the Catholic Church, while others have sought shelter in schools or hospitals. Around 1,000 are camped out next to the local airfield.
Violence between Christians and Muslims
One refugee told DW his story: He said he had been threatened by Séléka rebels both in his own neighborhood as well as outside the city. „That’s why we’ve come here,“ he said. „The Séléka, the Muslims, and the Peul [a mainly Muslim minority] attacked us. They had machetes and the Séléka had rifles, too. They set fire to our houses and other buildings.“ Along with others, he fled and now sleeps on a cold, bare floor in the Catholic Church. „We live like stray dogs,“ he said. „We’re hungry, especially the children, because we can’t harvest anything anymore. The cattle that wander around freely have destroyed everything.“
Doctors Without Borders is also reporting more and more religious violence. Ex-Präsident Bozizé’s supporters, mainly Christian, are being accused of condemning and executing Séléka supporters en masse. The Séléka rebels have reportedly repaid in kind. They are also rumored to be receiving support from Chad and Sudan, which the Chad government has denied.
Another refugee family also described the fighting: „They killed a lot of people in our village. Others managed to get away,“ said Fané Moussa, who is currently living with her family in a school in Bossangoa. „When we heard they were coming back we ran away.“ „We don’t know how we’re going to look after ourselves,“ her husband added. „We have corn and cassava in our fields at the village. But here in the city, where we don’t know our way around, we’ve got nothing to eat.“
Doctors Without Borders confirms that the refugees desperately need access to food and clean water. In such catastrophic conditions there is a real danger of disease. In Bossangoa and the rest of the country there is also a growing impatience with the international community. More and more people are hoping for foreign intervention.