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Central African Republic Residents Flee Inter-Religious Violence

December 30, 2013 by Brett Wilkins in Africa, Religion, War with 0 Comments
Central African Republic refugees in Chad (Photo: UNHCR)

Central African Republic refugees in Chad (Photo: UNHCR)

Thousands of residents of conflict-ravaged Central African Republic (CAR) attempted to flee inter-religious violence over the weekend, as the death toll from a month of fighting between Christian militias and Muslim separatist rebels passed 1,000.

Reuters reports four more people were killed in the capital city of Bangui on Monday.

“There was heavy weapons fire north of Bangui for a few hours and several neighborhoods were affected,” Amy Martin, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bangui, told Reuters.

Muslim Seleka rebels, who seized power in a spring coup, have been battling Christian militias, forcing hundreds of terrified residents to flee the country for neighboring Chad. Hundreds of thousands have already fled; tens of thousands have sought refuge at Bangui’s international airport, where French peacekeeping troops are based. Some 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union peacekeepers have been deployed under a UN mandate to protect civilians. Despite their presence, a large-scale refugee crisis has continue to unfold.

In CAR, which is about 80 percent Christian and 10 percent Muslim, Christians have been targeted for violence and looting by a loosely-associated group of government forces and allied Muslim militias, aided by fighters from Chad and Sudan. Michel Djotodia, the interim prime minister, and his security forces have been accused of serious human rights violations by rights groups like Amnesty International.

The Christian “anti-balaka” militia has been targeting Muslims it claims have been supporting Djotodia and Seleka. Many Seleka rebels have crossed into CAR from Chad, placing Chadians in the country in particular danger. Many of those waiting to leave Bangui airport were Muslims fearing retributive killing by Christian militiamen.

“We have never known violence as barbaric as this,” Aishatou Abdelkarim, a 31-year-old woman married to a Chadian, told Al Jazeera. “The devil has taken control of our country.”

The United Nations has appealed for more than $150 million in emergency humanitarian aid to help deal with the massive crisis.

“Hundreds of thousands of people in CAR are today in a deplorable humanitarian situation which requires immediate action to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Abou Dieng, the senior UN humanitarian coordinator in the nation of 4.5 million.

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