Struggle for rich resources at root of Central Africa’s religious violence

December 26, 2013

(A woman sits by her wounded relative in a clinic run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Bangui December 23, 2013.  REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu)

Mariam watched in horror as militiamen burst through the gate of her home in Central African Republic’s capital Bangui and demanded her husband say whether he was Muslim. When he said yes, they shot him dead.

“They killed him just like that in front of our child,” said Mariam, who fled through the back door. “Then they hacked and clubbed our neighbours, a husband and wife, to death.”

The two-day frenzy of violence in Bangui this month – in which militia killed 1,000 people, according to Amnesty International – fed fears that Central African Republic was about to descend into religious warfare on a scale comparable to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

The slaughter – a response to months of atrocities by mostly Muslim fighters from the Seleka rebel group who seized power in March – prompted France to immediately deploy 1,600 troops under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians.

Religious leaders had sounded the alarm over abuses by the Seleka after they burned churches, looted and killed during their southward march on the capital early this year. The violence has displaced some 700,000 people so far.

Many in the country insist that the origins of the bloodshed have little to do with religion, in a nation where Muslims and Christians have long lived in peace. Instead, they blame a political battle for control over resources in one of Africa’s weakest-governed states, split along ethnic faultlines and worsened by foreign meddling.

“We carried out these attacks because we have been invaded by foreigners by Chad and Sudan,” said Hercule Bokoe, a member of the militia, known as “anti-machete” and set up for self defence before the Seleka rebels arrived. He said his group’s aim was purely political: it would fight on until Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, installed as interim president, left power.

“We said to ourselves that the country cannot continue to be held hostage by foreigners,” Bokoe told Reuters.

Read the full story by Bate Felix and Paul-Marin Ngoupana here.

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