Only a few days into her presidency, already the scale of problems facing the Central African Republic’s (CAR) new interim leader, Catherine Samba-Panza, is all too apparent.
Fresh inter-religious violence erupted in the capital Bangui over the weekend, prompted by the killing of a prominent Muslim politician by Christian vigilantes.
Former minister Joseph Kalite, who once held the housing portfolio, was hacked to death by machete-wielding militiamen on Friday in the latest example of tit-for-tat violence between Muslims and Christians in the country.
Samba-Panza has vowed to do everything in her power to stop the bloodshed, which began after former members of the mostly Muslim rebel Seleka group unleashed a wave of killings and looting in the capital, prompting revenge attacks by Christian militia known as "anti-balaka".
But CAR’s new president is almost entirely dependent on assistance from the 1,600 French troops deployed to the country as part of Operation Sangaris as well as the 5,000 African Union peacekeepers in CAR, troops that many of Bangui’s Muslim residents believe are doing little to protect them.
‘We are still suffering’
In the capital’s Muslim neighbourhoods, such as PK5, residents say they feel abandoned by the French and African forces, whom they accuse of siding with the Christians.
"People tell us that the Sangaris forces came here to help us, but nothing is happening. We are still suffering,” one of PK5’s Muslim residents told FRANCE 24.
“I think we should split the Central African Republic. We should have our own part; we should only live with our Muslim brothers, because now we are suffering too much. No one supports us,” she said.
Taking advantage of the disbanding and disarming of some Seleka forces, anti-balaka bands have stepped up their revenge attacks on the minority Muslim population they accuse of colluding with the rebels.
On Friday, Amnesty International said its researchers had found evidence that anti-balaka had killed more than 50 Muslims last week in two attacks northwest of Bangui.
It also believes French and African peacekeepers need to do more to protect CAR’s Muslim population.
"International peacekeeping forces are failing the Muslim community," said Joanne Mariner, the group's senior crisis advisor in Bangui.
“Scores of people were left unprotected from vicious anti-balaka reprisals at a time when such attacks were entirely predictable.”
‘My only option is to leave’
Outside the mosque in PK5, where a number of families displaced by the violence have made a temporary home, one woman told FRANCE 24 that fleeing the country altogether is the only way for her to be safe.
“My only option is to leave the Central African Republic and flee to Chad. I don't have any other options,” she said.
Thousands of other Bangui Muslims have already made the journey across the border to neighbouring Chad to escape the unrest. Samba-Panza's plea for them to return home has largely fallen on deaf ears.
Those who have remained behind are feeling trapped and vulnerable.
“I am shocked by the discrimination against Muslims in this country,” says one man in PK5.
“Christians can come here to PK5 without a problem, but as soon as a Muslim leaves PK5 and finds himself in another Bangui neighbourhood, he is in trouble. That's unacceptable.”
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-01-26