Voice of America (Washington, DC)

12 February 2014

Central African Republic: Peacekeepers Failed to Prevent Ethnic Cleansing - Amnesty

Photo: H.Reichenberger/UNHCR
High Commissioner António Guterres meets a forcibly displaced woman at the airport site in Bangui for internally displaced people. The Muslim woman told Guterres that she had lost everything and had no desire to remain any longer in Central African Republic.

Rights group Amnesty International says peacekeepers in the Central African Republic did not deploy quickly enough to western parts of the country to protect Muslim civilians from "ethnic cleansing" by mostly Christian "anti-Balaka" militias.In a report Wednesday, the group says it documented large-scale, repeated attacks on Muslims since the beginning of the year, with the violence forcing entire communities to flee.

The report notes that some of the attacks were reprisals for anti-Christian violence committed by Muslim Seleka fighters, who continue to assault Christians "at every opportunity."Amnesty says French and African peacekeepers have likely prevented more large-scale killings, but that their failure to disarm the Seleka and anti-Balaka forces has left Muslim civilians vulnerable to attacks. The group wants to see peacekeepers deployed to more areas where civilians need protection.More than 5,000 African troops and 1,600 from France are working in the C.A.R. under a United Nations mandate.

The European Union has agreed to send about 500 troops as well.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the EU on Tuesday to accelerate that deployment, and asked for France and other countries to send more troops.He said the international community's response "does not yet match the gravity of the situation," and that more must be done to prevent atrocities, restore order and protect civilians.Mr. Ban warned that the sectarian violence is "changing the country's demography," putting the country at risk of becoming divided into parts.Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmund Mullet is traveling to the C.A.R. this week to discuss with African Union representatives the possibility of converting the African-led force into a U.N. peacekeeping operation.Mr. Ban reported to the Security Council in November that a U.N. mission could deploy up to 9,000 peacekeepers and 1,700 police to help stabilize the country and protect civilians.

Last March, the Muslim Seleka rebel movement overthrew President Francois Bozize. Much of the violence in the C.A.R. since then has been between ex-Seleka fighters and the anti-Balaka militias. The U.N. humanitarian agency says nearly 900 people have been killed in Bangui alone since violence escalated in early December. The U.N. also says more than 800,000 people have been displaced.

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