The Seleka alliance that seized control of Central African Republic in March has brought death and destruction to the landlocked country instead of the security and aid it promised, a human rights group said in a report.
The nation has slipped into chaos since Seleka, an alliance of five rebel groups, overthrew President Francois Bozizé in the latest in a series of coups in a country that remains one of the world's poorest despite its mineral wealth. U.N. officials and rights groups say both sides may have committed war crimes in the violence that has continued since the new president, Michel Djotodia, was sworn in last month.
The Human Rights Watch report, 'I Can Still Smell the Dead': The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic,' states that the Seleka killed scores of people, including children, raped at least 47 women and deliberately destroyed more than 1,000 homes, both in the capital Bangui, and in the provinces between February and June this year.
"Seleka leaders promised a new beginning for the people of the Central African Republic, but instead have carried out large-scale attacks on civilians, looting and murder," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW.
In one piece of testimony, nine male civilians recalled how they were mistaken for former soldiers and taken to the Mpoko River, outside Bangui. Seleka fighters lined them up on the riverbank and shot five of the men one by one, only to release the four others on learning that they had not been soldiers under Bozizé, the report said.
A mother of three said men had held her at gunpoint and raped her in front of her children in her neighbourhood of Boy-Rabe, in Bangui. When they left, they took everything from her house. Her husband abandoned her the next day, the report said.
A string of villages and towns on the main Batangafo-Bouca road were burned down in quick succession, including schools and churches, and the Seleka stole the villagers' goats. In one village, the rebels could not burn the school so they burned the books instead, the report said.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says some 500,000 people have been displaced as a result of the violence, many fleeing to the bush, where they face hunger and sickness, or to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
In August, French President Francois Hollande called on the United Nations Security Council and the African Union to stop the "Somalisation" of Central African Republic, warning that it was at risk of going the same way as Somalia, which plunged into two decades of civil war and lawlessness after the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991.
New violence erupted in northwest CAR last month, in which hundreds of civilians were killed, and last week Djotodia sacked the army chief and dissolved the Seleka alliance that brought him to power, announcing that official state forces were in charge of security. No details were provided as to how these forces would disarm and disband the thousands of Seleka fighters across the country, the report said.
Reinforcements have started to arrive to strengthen the 1,100-strong African peacekeeping mission in CAR, but the planned 3,600-strong force, with an African Union mandate to operate more robustly than the present force, will not be fully deployed before 2014, officials said.
International bodies and concerned countries should help the African Union peacekeeping mission to carry out its job and should impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses, including Seleka leaders, HRW said.
The Seleka leadership should control its forces, denounce killings by its members and supporters, restore civilian administration throughout the country and ensure accountability for the crimes committed, the report said.