Voice of America (Washington, DC)

5 February 2014

Central African Republic: New Atrocities Highlight Muslim-Christian Tensions

Photo: Pierre Holtz/Unicef
Insecurity remains a major concern (file photo).

Soldiers in the Central African Republic have been accused of taking part in the street killing of a suspected Muslim rebel group member, shortly after the interim president spoke at a ceremony highlighting the country's military.

Witnesses say soldiers took part in the Wednesday attack on a man suspected of belonging to the Seleka rebellion that overthrew President Francois Bozize, last March.

They say soldiers helped beat and stab the man before dragging his body through the streets. Television video shows a man stomping on an almost naked and lifeless body, with soldiers nearby.

The incident took place in the capital, Bangui, shortly after interim President Catherine Samba-Panza praised the military for its efforts to regroup and reform after last year's coup.

Human Rights Watch emergencies director Peter Bouckaert was attending the ceremony, and saw the attack.

"They were, I believe, afraid of the massive mob of thousands of uniformed soldiers who were at the scene and this absolute scene of carnage in front of their eyes," he said in a VOA interview, adding that African peacekeepers were nearby but did not initially intervene.

The incident is an indication of the tensions between the C.A.R.'s Muslims and Christians since Bozize's ouster. Much of the fighting since his departure has been between Muslim ex-Seleka forces and mostly Christian "anti-Balaka" militias.

Bouckaert says some of those involved in the attack appeared to be anti-Balaka members.

In another development, HRW says Seleka fighters have been engaging in a "new wave of horrific attacks," in some cases with help from Chadian soldiers who are part of an African peacekeeping force.

In a Wednesday statement, the rights group says Chadian peackeepers have helped facilitate the movement of ex-Seleka fighters.

Also, Bouckaert says Chadian soldiers shot and killed civilians on Tuesday.

"Chadian peacekeepers who were in a town about 80 kilometers north of Bangui, called Boali, where 700 Muslims are sheltering in the Catholic church, opened fire on the civilian population, killing two," Bouckaert said. "So that is why we are calling for the suspension of the Chadian peacekeepers. They are not here to keep peace. They are here to assist the Seleka in committing atrocities and they should be suspended from this very important mission and their conduct should be investigated."

The United Nations human rights office has also expressed concern that Chadian peacekeepers appear to have supported Muslim ex-Seleka fighters in the C.A.R., a charge Chad has denied.

Bouckaert says Human Rights Watch gathered information about the alleged involvement of Chadian soldiers in the C.A.R.'s unrest during recent interviews with civilians in the town of Sibut and other regions.

He also says civilians described atrocities that include arbitrary detentions, torture and executions.

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