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.