With Muslin Seleka rebels on the one side, and Christian militia on the other, many believe the fighting in the Central African Republic is about religion. There are others, however, who believe it is a political fight to gain command of the countries natural resources: diamonds, gold, lumber and oil.
While the debate carries on, bodies are being recovered from the streets of Bangui. This past week has seen the situation intensify with the Red Cross reporting 44 bodies recovered in the last two days. They also commented that there were probably many other bodies in areas of the city that couldn’t be accessed.
The road to violence in this relatively peaceful African nation began last March when a northern Gula tribesman, Djotodia, and other Seleka leaders marched south with the support of Muslim Chadian fighters. Djotodia’s better equipped soldiers easily overcame President Bozize’s defense force and he installed himself as the interim leader of the country. Djotodia had attempted a previous coup in the late 2000’s but was thwarted by Bozize who had the military backing of Chadian President Idriss Deby. The success of his latest attempt came as Deby withdrew his support of Bozize’s role as president of the Central African Republic. In an ironic twist the same Chadian bodyguards that once protected Bozize now protect Djotodia.
Soon after the coup Djotodia officially disbanded the Seleka rebels. Some of them, however, took advantage of the instability and waged a campaign of violence against the largely local Christian populace. Reported atrocities included rape, looting, and killing. As the situation worsened Christians began to form militias to protect themselves. As the Seleka rebels continued their campaign of violence the newly formed Christian militias began to strike back.
The tit-for-tat strikes between the two factions have escalated tensions to a level where the French government deployed 1,600 troops to it’s former colony, the Central African Republic, since early December. Working alongside a 3,700 strong MISCA force, Mission internationale de soutien a la Centrafrique sous conduite africaine, their mandate is to reestablish control to the area.
With the French establishing a base at the Bangui airport many of the local citizens, up to 30,000, have sought refuge from the fighting there. With many relieved that the French and MISCA forces have arrived, there are those that believe they too are following religious battle lines, with the French protecting the Christians, and the MISCA, containing a large Muslin Chadian contingent, aiding the Seleka rebels.
During the last two days the violence has escalated to new heights culminating in a failed attack on the presidential palace. Many believe the attack by a Christian militia had the support of former President Bozize.
On Wednesday, six Chadian peacekeepers were killed and French forces were forced to deploy tanks to guard the airport.
As the heavy fighting continues in the Central African Republic, more Bangui citizens are seeking refuge at the airport. It is estimated that up to 200,000 people have been displaced so far. The violence continues to flare up and in one case Amnesty International put the death toll at over a 1,000 in only a couple of days violence in early December.
By Scott Wilson