At least 42 people have been killed and a further 80 injured in clashes after Muslims attacked a predominantly Christian neighbourhood of Bangui, capital of Central African Republic (CAR) on Saturday (26 September). Over 30,000 people have fled their homes to displaced persons’ camps in various parts of the city, say some reports.
Early on Saturday morning, Muslims marched from their stronghold in Bangui’s 3rd district to the 5th district, a mainly Christian part of the city. Carrying automatic guns, grenades, machetes and knives, they torched houses and cars and attacked several buildings, including a church, dispensary, police station, and the Voice of Peace Muslim radio station.
The situation, said a Barnabas contact, is one of “total carnage” and “chaos”. “The scenes are surreal,” he said. “Pastor Vincent cries his eyes out after his daughter and her husband had their throats cut in their home.” “When,” he asks, “will this calvary end for the people of CAR?”
The President of the Association of Evangelicals in CAR was one of those whose homes were attacked. Finding that he was not at home, a group of young Muslims forced family members to leave the house, looted its contents and burned it to the ground; no one was injured.
The attacks were prompted by the murder of a Muslim motorcycle-taxi driver, whose body was discovered dumped in the street, mutilated and the throat cut, according to a Barnabas contact. Despite the fact that the murder motive is unknown, Muslims responded with what was said to be the worst violence the country has seen this year, making the Christians their target.
Anti-balaka (meaning anti-AK47 bullets or anti-machete) fighters responded with reprisal attacks and the clashes have led to more looting and deaths. Various international non-government organisation (NGO) buildings were looted on Sunday afternoon (27 September) and anti-balaka militants attacked a police station that night, injuring two police officers.
On Monday, many people stayed inside and most shops remained shuttered, but thousands also took part in a march towards the presidential palace. That evening, hundreds of inmates from Nagaragba jail escaped, many of them anti-balaka and Muslim Seleka militants. “Right now, everyone is on tenterhooks,” said our contact.
It is unknown how many people have been killed, but a Barnabas contact has warned that the figures could reach into the dozens, with media underestimating the situation. At least three children are among those killed, one of them decapitated, according to UNICEF. Some sources are reporting that over 200 people have been “executed”.
If Seleka militants, who are now mainly in the country’s interior, make it to the capital, the fear is that the death toll will rise “on a big scale” if clashes continue, reported a Barnabas contact.
According to a Barnabas contact, it is thought that the body of the murdered Muslim had come from far off, and that it had been planted as a set-up in order to create trouble. CAR authorities have blamed the clashes on citizens attempting to disrupt next month’s elections, and on Sunday (27 September), the government enforced a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. But the curfew is not respected and violence has continued through the evenings.
Thousands of people in this Christian-majority country have been killed in the past two years after violent clashes erupted between Muslim Seleka groups and anti-balaka militia in late 2013.
In February, Fulani Muslims burned more than 14 homes and churches and vandalised missionary centres in the area around Kaga-Bandoro, in the north-central part of the country. Everything in an area of around 5-30 kilometres was destroyed; fields and property were either seized or ruined.
In early 2014, when the violence was at its peak, over 930,000 people were displaced from their homes. Although media have dubbed the anti-balaka a Christian militia, churches across CAR have strongly condemned the group’s violent actions.
Seleka militants ousted President Francois Bozize from his position in March 2013 and took control of the government. Mr Bozize has been exiled to Cameroon and a transitional government led by Catherine Samba-Panza is currently running the country. Although elections have been scheduled from 18 October, it is suspected that they will be postponed yet again.