Voice of America (Washington, DC)

10 April 2014

Central African Republic: Could C.A.R. Violence Lead It to Partition?

Bangui — The United Nations says 19,000 Muslims in the Central African Republic remain in imminent danger and should be relocated to safer towns farther north or outside the country. But it is a complex issue, as tens of thousands of Muslims have already fled their homes in the capital and the western half of the country following attacks.

Some local authorities worry that further evacuations could deepen divisions and reinforce calls for a partition of the country.

The C.A.R. is a country divided. Muslims are effectively separated from Christians.

In the Muslim part of Bangui's PK12 neighborhood, some talk of eventual reconciliation -- others, divorce.

This resident, Moustapha Nasse, says "That's what I want. If we separate the country, everyone can be at peace."

Two-thousand Muslims are stuck here in PK12 along a short stretch of road. They can not risk going out. French and African Union troops stand guard, but trouble still makes its way in, almost daily.

A member of the Islamic committee of PK12, Ibrahim Alawad, stands in the entry to a small house and points in the distance.

"They throw it through that way and it coming down here," he said.

"It" was a grenade lobbed into the area by anti-balaka militia outside just two days ago. Five people were wounded.

U.N. agencies are preparing to relocate the Muslims of PK 12 farther north to towns that have agreed to accept them.

Across town in the Muslim PK5 neighborhood, many have left. Others want to go, though there are no immediate plans to evacuate them.

PK5 resident, Haroune, says "We are in an open-air prison. We are held hostage. We don't feel safe. We want to go north where we can be free and earn our livings."

There are about 10,000 Muslims left in PK5, confined to about a one-kilometer radius since December.

The government has asked the residents to stay. The minister of communication and reconciliation came to Friday prayers at the Central Mosque as a show of solidarity.

January and February saw much of the country's Muslim minority flee attacks in the south and the west. The largely Christian anti-balaka militia were seeking revenge for abuses committed by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels.

International troops escorted huge convoys of Muslims out of Bangui and other zones. Some went to Cameroon and Chad, others to towns in the north and the east, areas still under rebel control.

The mass exodus saved lives.

The government is against more evacuations but acknowledges it can do little to protect Muslims still in danger.

International troops are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Some question whether those troops could fight off a separatist attempt by armed groups in the northeast.

The rebels who made up the now ex-Seleka coalition appear divided on the idea of partition for now.

General Mohamed Dhaffane, second vice president of the ex-Seleka coalition, says he is against it.

He told VOA that "within Seleka there is a strong majority that wants partition. They feel they are no longer accepted, that the Ndjamena accords have not been applied and so there is no sharing of power. The Muslim population is also being persecuted. So there are people, in all legitimacy, calling for partition. But there are others, including myself, who are against. We are a Muslim minority within the C.A.R. We must remain and our rights must be respected."

Some in the C.A.R. say those in favor of partition are after diamond revenues, as well as potential oil deposits, in the northeast.

The northeast has spawned several rebellions over the past decade amid complaints that Bangui has done little to develop the north or deal with chronic insecurity.

C.A.R. presidential spokesman and political adviser, Clement Anicet Guiyama-Massogo, says those needs must be addressed but partition is a dangerous prospect.

He says "we feel there are Islamist extremist groups who are trying to seize upon this situation to further complicate this crisis."

He says Boko Haram and other extremists were among the "mercenaries" present in the country after Seleka took power in March 2013, something Seleka denies.

The government says its position is clear: the country is indivisible.

Many of the Muslims still packing their bags in Bangui agree. They say they want to reconcile, and that they will return when it is safe.

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