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Exclusive: Bangui residents face choice to flee or live in fear

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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-27

The UN says more than 200,000 have fled the fighting in Bangui between ex-members of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels and predominantly Christian militias. Some residents of the capital told FRANCE 24 that they returned home only to flee once again.

After another night of inter-religious clashes, the gunshots have become more sporadic. Many choose this moment to flee, once again.

“It’s the third time we’ve fled our home,” said Nelly, a resident of the capital, Bangui. “We leave, come back home, and have to flee again.”

The UN says more than 200,000 civilians have so far been displaced by the fighting in the capital between Christian anti-balaka militias and interim President Michel Djotodia’s supporters, many of them former members of his predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group.

The Central African Republic descended into chaos after Djotodia’s Seleka rebels deposed president François Bozizé in a March coup. Djotodia officially disbanded the group after he seized power, but some of its former members launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting some Christian communities to form vigilante militias.

Amnesty International says up to 1,200 people were killed in systematic attacks on December 5 and 6 as both former Seleka and anti-balaka militias went door to door, killing the men they found and making little effort to distinguish between militants and civilians.

French and African forces from the UN-backed peacekeeping mission known as MISCA (the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic) now patrol the city, but they cannot answer all the calls for help.

“We are abandoned. We call the French forces and MISCA but they don’t come,” said one resident.

Many of Bangui’s residents have decided to arm themselves.

The interreligious conflict has seen both churches and mosques coming under attack, and scenes of violence have become commonplace. A charred body lies in the back of a burnt pickup truck.

These three Muslims were nearly lynched, accused of being Seleka rebels. But French soldiers keep the angry crowd at bay.

“I was never part of Seleka. Neither was he, he’s just a taxi driver,” one of the accused men insists.

“They want to kill us. They threw stones at us, we are wounded, they didn’t ask us who we are, they believe all Muslims are bandits,” one young man told FRANCE 24. “But it’s not true, and it’s not true that all Christians are bandits.”

Top Muslim and Catholic clerics in the country have pleaded for the United Nations to "immediately dispatch" extra peacekeepers to help stop the violence, which French and African forces are struggling to contain.

In a joint opinion piece in French newspaper Le Monde, Archbishop of Bangui Dieudonne Nzapalainga and the president of the country's Muslim community, Imam Omar Kobine Layama, said the progress so far made by the peacekeeping forces "has been fragile and the troops cannot bear the burden themselves".

Yet despite all the fighting, some residents remain optimistic.

“Reconciliation is possible. God willing, we Muslims have no problems, even if someone kills my mother and asks for my pardon, I will give it.”

But for the moment, for many here the only option is to flee.
 

Date created : 2013-12-27

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