Since February 1, in Carnot, southwestern Central African Republic (CAR), nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslim, have been trapped, surrounded and threatened by the self-defense militias known as anti-Balakas. MSF has been working in Carnot since 2010 and has been a direct witness to the violence and abuses against the city's displaced Muslim populations, who we are assisting.
Muslim communities in many towns in western CAR have been attacked in recent weeks. Fearful of experiencing similar attacks, the vast majority of Carnot's Muslim population has also fled. At the same time, many Fulani (Muslim shepherds) have stopped off at Carnot, along the road leading them out of CAR towards Cameroon. For some of them, this town, with a population of approximately 8,000, is more than 100 kilometres from their home. It has become a transit area for these nomadic populations.
Now, with the ex-Selekas gone and the town under the control of the anti-Balakas since February 1, more than 1,000 people - mostly refugees within the bounds of the city's parish - find themselves trapped.
With the arrival of additional anti-Balaka groups, tensions are increasing daily. The parish priest has been threatened several times. Kidnappings for ransom have taken place. Increasingly threatening and violent armed men, pistols in hand, announce that they intend to kill all the city's Muslims and track them down through a general house-by-house search. Anyone who hides Muslims is also at risk.
Tense negotiations with armed men
On February 7, one such group entered a house where 86 displaced persons, all Muslim men, women and children, were hidden. Seven men were executed and three people were struck with a machete, including a 12 year-old child. After nearly two hours' of very tense negotiations, MSF was able to gather the wounded and those requiring immediate medical care. On several occasions, armed men entered the grounds of the city hospital where MSF is working, either to kill patients - specifically, Fulani - or to attack several displaced persons who are living there. The hospital teams have had to intervene each time.
On February 9, as MSF was organising the air transfer of several severely-wounded patients, anti-Balaka forces seized the landing strip, preventing all landings and take-offs. Under the terms of a new round of negotiations, MSF was able to free the runway, but because one patient's security could still not be guaranteed on the way to the airport, only two patients could be transferred to Bangui.
Growing number of displaced persons
The Cameroonian unit of the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) in Carnot is not large enough to be deployed throughout the city, so it now gathers the displaced persons at the parish site that is under its protection. The number of people from Carnot and the surrounding areas who have taken refuge there, including growing numbers of Christians, continues to increase. MSF is providing assistance to these displaced persons, including primary care, food and construction of latrines and showers.
Between January 21 and February 1, the city's hospital, which is supported by MSF, treated 34 people with bullet wounds from the region. Between February 1 and February 8, 35 people were treated and more than 18 deaths were recorded. MSF's teams in Carnot have directly witnessed this violence since early February. The tension in the city is extremely troubling. Our teams are trying to provide medical support to wounded people and assistance to the displaced populations in an increasingly aggressive, volatile and unpredictable environment.