In Bangui, the capital of the landlocked country of Central African Republic, clashes between Muslim and Christian militias resulted in the deaths of 105 people — including women and children — on December 5. The international community responded quickly. The United Nations Security Council authorized the deployment of French and African peacekeepers in an attempt to contain the violence before more civilians are killed. Experts worry that the Central African Republic is on the path to greater sectarian violence and even genocide in the religiously divided nation.
“The United States is appalled by today’s reports of the murder of innocent women and children outside of Bangui,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement, according to The Los Angeles Times. “This horrifying account is the latest in a string of reports that illustrate the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the Central African Republic…that could lead to an escalation in violence and further atrocities.”
The BBC reports that the Central African Republic has suffered from a series of coups and instability since gaining independence from France in 1960. The most recent government overthrow occurred in March 2013 when a rebel group called the Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize and installed its own leader, Michel Djotodia, as interim president.
Since then, former members of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels have fought with Christian-aligned militias that have been established to fight back. The Christian groups call themselves anti-balaka (“balaka” means in machete in the local language). The U.N. reports that 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes due to the unrest and thousands have fled into neighboring Chad.
According to Reuters, France already has 650 troops in the Central African Republic. The U.N. resolution could boost that number to nearly 9,000. After the unanimous U.N. vote to authorize force, French President Francois Hollande told reporters that he intended to move immediately to protect civilians in Bangui.
“The situation is not yet a genocide in the Central African Republic,” Human Rights Watch researcher Lewis Mudge told NPR. “But the conflict is certainly starting to break down on sectarian lines. And that is very, very worrying.”
The Guardian has documented the unraveling situation in the rural villages of the Central African Republic. As violence between Muslims and Christians, who are the majority, has escalated in recent month, there have been reports that children’s throats have been slit, young men have been thrown to crocodiles and women are being bludgeoned to death in the streets. Analysts note that both sides are committing atrocities.
“They started to attack my son,” a man told The Guardian. “They tried to shoot him but the gun was not working. So they slit his throat instead. What threat does this child pose to the Seleka?”
Humanitarian workers are also worried that the conflict is indirectly causing many more deaths. Fleeing civilians are suffering from malnutrition and diseases like malaria, which pose as much danger as the foreign Islamists that are pouring into the country to join the fight.
“The CAR is becoming a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups in a region that is already suffering from conflict and instability,” Jan Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary-General of the U.N. told NewsHour. “If this situation is left to fester, it may degenerate into a religious and ethnic conflict with longstanding consequences, a relentless civil war that could easily spill over into neighboring countries.”
Despite deteriorating conditions, there is hope that peacekeeping forces will be able to restore security to a nation that is all too familiar with bloodshed. After that, the Central African Republic will have to face a period of rebuilding relationships. An editorial in The Christian Science Monitor calls on the U.N. to foster a dialogue between Muslims and Christians to restore trust and civility between the warring groups before a full-on genocide breaks out.
By Jonny Eberle – Grey Cell Staff Writer