Some 10,000 Muslims fled for their lives from the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui on Friday, climbing aboard trucks guarded by heavily armed Chadian forces amid scenes of “absolute terror”.
At least one refugee was lynched and mutilated when he fell from a departing lorry.
“We witnessed hundreds of vehicles leaving Bangui,” said Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch. “There were so many we gave up counting.”
The convoy included at least 10,000 people, he told FRANCE 24, adding that “the entire Muslim population of Mbaiki”, a town 100 kilometres south of Bangui, was heading for Chad.
“They were escorted by heavily armed elite Chadian troops,” he said.
Jerome Delay, chief photographer for the Associated Press in Africa, told FRANCE 24 he had witnessed “a massive exodus of the Muslim population in a convoy of around 10,000 people” that reminded him of his grim experience of reporting from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
All the vehicles of the convoy, comprised of hundreds of lorries, taxis, off-road vehicles and Chadian army trucks, were headed to the Central African Republic’s border with Chad, via Sibut and Kaga-Bandoro, an arduous journey of 600 kilometres on rough roads.
Many of the vehicles broke down while they were still in Bangui, Bouckaert reported, who also said troops of the African MISCA force opened fire on civilians who were jeering, threatening and throwing stones at the convoy.
‘Scenes of absolute terror’
Both Bouckaert and Delay confirmed that at least one Muslim fleeing the city had been lynched by the baying mob after he fell from a lorry, his neck slashed, and his penis, hand and foot cut off.
“These were scenes of absolute terror,” said Bouckaert. “It would be absolutely criminal to say that the situation is stabilising when we see people lynched in the streets like this.”
“It is obvious that the level of violence in Bangui right now is as intense as it has ever been,” added Delay. “There is no real security in Bangui.”
In recent weeks, angry mobs have set fire to mosques and have brutally killed and mutilated Muslims. On Wednesday, one Muslim suspected of having aided last year's Seleka rebellion was set upon with knives, bricks and feet.
Uniformed soldiers then paraded his body through the streets before it was dismembered and set ablaze.
Military intervention fails to stem bloodshed
The Central African Republic is a predominantly Christian country, with a sizeable Muslim population in its north near the borders with Sudan and Chad, as well as in urban areas in the south.
In spring 2013, an alliance of Muslim rebel groups from the north, known as Seleka, united to overthrow the president of a decade.
The rebels quickly became bitterly despised by the Christian population after the fighters went on looting sprees, raping and killing civilians at random.
An armed Christian movement known as the anti-Balaka, began retaliating several months later.
The resignation in January of the Seleka-led government and the subsequent withdrawal of the former rebel fighters has left the Muslim population in Bangui and other southern areas vulnerable to revenge attacks.
The deployment of 5,000 African peacekeepers and 1,600 French troops has failed to stem the bloodshed, with more than 2,000 killed and tens of thousands more displaced from their homes since the beginning of 2014.
Date created : 2014-02-07