Nearly 1,000 killed over 2 days in CAR, Amnesty says
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The death toll from a two-day rampage by mostly Muslim ex-rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital Bangui two weeks ago was much higher than first thought, with close to 1,000 people killed, Amnesty International said Thursday.
Violence erupted in the city on December 5 when Christian militias known as "anti-balaka" went door-to-door in some districts in the capital "and killed approximately 60 Muslim men", Amnesty said.
Muslim groups then retaliated "on a larger scale against Christians in the wake of the attack, killing nearly 1,000 men over a two-day period and systematically looting civilian homes. A small number of women and children were also killed".
The UN earlier estimated 450 people had been killed in Bangui and 150 elsewhere in the country.
CAR, a mostly Christian country, spiralled into chaos after Michel Djotodia's mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew President François Bozizé in March.
Seleka was disbanded after the coup, but many rebels went rogue, terrorising civilians with massacres, rapes and lootings.
In response, locals formed Christian vigilante groups, leading to an explosion of sectarian violence among Muslims and Christians who previously had long lived together in harmony.
The UN estimates some 210,000 people have been forced from their homes in the capital alone.
Some badly affected cities, like Bossangoa in the northwest, have become little more than ghost towns, with terrified residents huddling in Christian and Muslim camps, separated by a strip of no man's land that only aid workers dare cross.
According to Amnesty International, which has compiled a report based on a two-week fact-finding mission to CAR, war crimes are frequently being committed by both sides in the conflict.
The information gathered "has left no room for doubt that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed by all parties to the conflict," said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty International's Central Africa expert.
France has already sent 1,600 soldiers to its former colony to bolster an African Union peacekeeping force, but Amnesty said that despite the foreign intervention "civilians are being wilfully killed on a daily basis, with at least 90 additional people killed since 8 December".
Paris has appealed for other European governments to contribute to the military operation in CAR and on Tuesday French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that support would soon be on its way.
“We will soon have troops on the ground from our European colleagues," he told France’s parliament in response to a question on a perceived lack of European support in CAR.
But while Germany, Britain and others have provided logistical support, France is alone in sending combat troops to the country.
In its own report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch warned that without additional foreign intervention, further violence in CAR is likely.
"The UN Security Council needs to act quickly to bring this evolving catastrophe to a halt," said Peter Bouckaert, who authored the report.
"The potential for further mass violence is shockingly high," he added.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Belgium is prepared to help in a military effort to secure Bangui Airport in the Central African Republic but only part of a “European framework”, the country’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Wednesday.
There would be no “exclusive Belgian intervention in the matter”, he told public broadcaster RTBF in comments that would appear to conflict with earlier reports that Belgium was preparing to send 150 troops to the country.
The Belgium government had already announced on Friday it was sending two aircraft to CAR to offer logistical support.