The UN warned Thursday that violence in the Central African Republic had the makings of a genocide as seven more people were killed overnight in inter-religious bloodshed ahead of a parliamentary vote Monday to select a new president.
Violence in the country has not let up despite the resignation last week of former rebel leader and president Michel Djotodia, who was under intense pressure to step down over his failure to stem the bloodshed.
The violence in the Central African Republic "has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda, Bosnia", UN humanitarian operations director John Ging told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.
"The elements are there for a genocide, there is no question about that," Ging said. He was speaking after a five-day visit to the country.
"Atrocities are being committed on an ongoing basis [and] fear is consuming the minds of an entire population, wherever you might go."
The country descended into chaos after Djotodia’s Seleka rebels deposed president François Bozizé in a March coup. Djotodia officially disbanded his predominantly Muslim rebel group after he seized power, but some of its former members launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting some communities in the Christian-majority nation to form vigilante militias.
The US military on Thursday started transporting the first elements of a Rwandan troop force to the Central African Republic to join an African Union-led UN mission already in place in the country, the Pentagon said.
The African Union mission includes troops from Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Chad and Equatorial Guinea and is working alongside some 1,600 French troops.
Tension are running high in northern Bangui, where French troops patrolled in a bid to quell the unrest that has spiralled out of control between Muslim former rebels and the Christian majority in the wake of the coup.
Some residents of the capital have accused French soldiers of shooting people during a search. "They fired at the three men," said a youth, pointing to spent shells.
The French army acknowledged that there had been a clash but denied any link with the three deaths.
'We're being massacred here'
Panicked Muslim residents were also fleeing, headed northwards for neighbouring Chad, a country unfamiliar to many of them. AFP journalists saw dozens of people packed into lorries accompanied by Chadian troops from the regional African force known as MISCA (African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic).
Women in tears and terrified children scrambled to get aboard moving vehicles, some of them wounded by the Christian "anti-balaka" militias formed in response to atrocities committed by armed Muslims.
"We're being massacred here. I've suffered too much. I'm going," said Sadou Gambo, a widow with six children and no relatives in Chad.
Members of the Transitional National Council (CNT), which is serving as a provisional parliament, on Thursday agreed on 17 criteria for a potential interim leader and said the election would take place on Monday morning.
The successful candidate will be "competent, a person of integrity, rigorous and capable of pushing forward national reconciliation", the CNT said.
However, the person must not be a member of the CNT itself, nor have served in Djotodia's administration nor have been part of a militia or armed rebellion for the past 20 years.
"The council has an historic opportunity to put the country on a path toward stability, democracy and development, and we encourage the council to seize this opportunity by selecting leaders of integrity who can restore stability to the Central African Republic," the US State Department's deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said on Wednesday.
But the UN's Ging warned of the scale of the task ahead for any future leader.
"Politically, the country has collapsed; public services have also collapsed, whether it's healthcare, education, social services and so on," he said.
"This conflict [was initiated] by extremely violent people who have an agenda to try to convert this into an inter-religious conflict," he said. "The communities are resisting that, but they are in fear."
About a fifth of the population of 4.6 million has been displaced or fled abroad to escape widespread murder, rape and pillage committed by rival militias, according to UN agencies.
Some 100,000 people from Bangui survive in an overcrowded tent city by the airport, where the French troops and MISCA soldiers who are trying to disarm the militias and provide security are based.
On Wednesday, the African Union urged central African countries to strengthen the MISCA force from around 4,500 to 6,000.
Relief agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster and are making efforts to feed people, help run crowded hospitals and provide vaccination for measles, which can be deadly when hygiene is lacking.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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Date created : 2014-01-17