UN warns of genocide risk in Central African Republic

More robust international response needed, says official

Angry men point at African Union  soldiers in Gobongo district in the Central African Republic capital Bangui yesterday.  More than 1,000 people were killed last month alone in  Bangui. Photograph: Emmanuel Braun/Reuters

Angry men point at African Union soldiers in Gobongo district in the Central African Republic capital Bangui yesterday. More than 1,000 people were killed last month alone in Bangui. Photograph: Emmanuel Braun/Reuters

Fri, Jan 17, 2014, 01:00

A senior UN official warned yesterday of the risk of genocide in Central African Republic without a more robust international response to communal bloodshed in which at least eight more people were killed overnight.

The former French colony descended into chaos after a mostly Muslim rebel coalition, Seleka, seized power in March, unleashing a wave of killings and looting that sparked revenge attacks by an “anti-balaka” Christian militia.

More than a million people have been displaced by the violence since Seleka installed their leader, Michel Djotodia, as interim president. More than a thousand people were killed last month alone in the capital Bangui.

There has been relative calm since Djotodia’s resignation under intense international pressure last week, but sporadic violence has persisted in Bangui. Neighbouring African states have evacuated more than 30,000 of their citizens.

“It has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia,” John Ging, director of operations for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a news conference in Geneva.

“The elements are there, the seeds are there, for a genocide,” he said after a five-day trip to the country. Ging said the crisis was foreseeable and avoidable but an outgrowth of international neglect over many years.

France’s UN envoy said on Wednesday the level of hatred between Muslims and Christians had been underestimated and was making it “nearly impossible” to halt the violence.

France in December hurriedly deployed some 1,600 French troops to help African peacekeeping forces. The arrival of Rwandan forces aboard a US military aircraft yesterday increased the African Union contingent to about 5,000 troops.

Many say the bloodshed has little to do with religion, in a nation where Muslims and Christians live in peace. Instead, they blame a political battle for control over natural resources in one of Africa’s weakest states, split along ethnic lines and worsened by foreign meddling.

Eight people were killed in Bangui late on Wednesday, witnesses said. Yesterday, hundreds of angry residents surrounded a convoy of Chadian Muslims fleeing the country. They shouted “go home” and “assassins”. Some in the crowd attempted to loot and set fire to one vehicle but were prevented by African Union peacekeepers, who fired warning shots to disperse them.

The commander of French forces, Gen Francisco Soriano, told a video conference in Paris yesterday the security situation was improving but remained “extremely complicated and very volatile”.

Central African Republic is designated by the UN as one of the top three humanitarian emergencies, along with Syria and the Philippines. But a UN appeal has received only 6 per cent of a $247 million target, which Mr Ging said aimed to meet only the most basic life-saving needs. French and African peacekeepers were having a positive effect but were stretched to their limits, he added.– (Reuters)