Fear haunt­ing be­sieged Mus­lim dis­trict of CAR

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Chris­tian Panika and Jean-Pierre Cam­pagne

No money, no food, no petrol. But there is fear. Plenty of it. It is fear that haunts the dusty streets of PK5, a Mus­lim neigh­bour­hood in Ban­gui, the Cen­tral African Repub­lic (CAR) cap­i­tal that Pope Fran­cis plans to visit to­day and tomorrow. Un­der siege from Chris­tian mili­tia - known as “anti-bal­aka” fight­ers - backed by ex-army troops, res­i­dents of the city’s last Mus­lim dis­trict are cor­nered amid the burnt rub­ble and de­bris of war, hun­gry but too afraid to ven­ture out. “No­body can leave PK5 and go on Bo­ganda av­enue with­out be­ing stoned, kid­napped or killed by armed groups,” said a young Mus­lim who gave her name as Az­iza. “We are all afraid.”

The PK5 dis­trict, a maze of dirt-red roads and flimsy shacks, epit­o­mizes the sec­tar­ian con­flict tear­ing apart im­pov­er­ished CAR. If se­cu­rity per­mits, Fran­cis is sched­uled to visit its mosque on the last leg of his three-na­tion Africa tour, his first visit to the con­ti­nent. The dis­trict was the epi­cen­tre of an un­prece­dented wave of violence pit­ting ma­jor­ity Chris­tians against mi­nor­ity Mus­lims that be­gan in late 2013 and has con­tin­ued since.

One of the poor­est and most un­sta­ble coun­tries in Africa, the coun­try plunged into chaos af­ter for­mer pres­i­dent Fran­cois Boz­ize was ousted in a coup in March 2013. The mainly Mus­lim rebels be­hind the coup went on a bloody ram­page that trig­gered the emer­gence of the equally dan­ger­ous anti-Bal­aka mili­tia in mostly Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties. At the height of the mas­sacres, around one in five of CAR’s 4.6 mil­lion peo­ple were dis­placed and half the pop­u­la­tion forced to live on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

“We don’t have any­thing here: veg­eta­bles, wa­ter, elec­tric­ity or health care,” said lo­cal shop­keeper Ashta Babayero. Res­i­dents said they had pleaded for help from UN peace­keep­ers in the MINUSCA force as well as from French forces there.

Cor­nered, Un­able to Move But Ah­mat Moussa, also a shop­keeper, said in­ter­na­tional forces were re­fus­ing aid. “Be­fore, the MINUSCA pa­trols would es­cort those who wanted to leave, but it’s no longer the case. We can’t even go to the bank to take out money. Food is scarce and what can we do with­out money?” One man said that when his brother at­tempted to with­draw cash “they kid­napped, tor­tured and killed him, his body was hor­ri­bly mu­ti­lated.”

Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Roland Mar­chal said sol­diers from Boz­ize’s army, of­fi­cially dis­man­tled by in­ter­na­tional forces, were join­ing the anti-bal­aka mili­tia. “They re­cently switched to the anti-bal­aka camp, this is not a good sign,” Mar­chal said. The CAR leg of the pon­tiff’s trip has been main­tained de­spite warn­ings from French peace­keep­ers there that they can­not guar­an­tee Fran­cis’ se­cu­rity.

And Mus­lim lead­ers from PK5 have met with the arch­bishop of Ban­gui in an at­tempt to se­cure as best as pos­si­ble the lo­ca­tions the pon­tiff plans to visit. But the mili­tias pa­trolling the out­skirts of the dis­trict do not plan to let up their bar­ri­cades. “The res­i­dents of the PK5 kill, slaugh­ter and maim men, women and chil­dren!” said Herve Ngote, who lives in a nearby dis­trict. “We will main­tain this block­ade un­til a so­lu­tion is found, we will brave the armed Mus­lims in PK5 and MINUSCA,” he said.

Vat­i­can of­fi­cials say a last-minute change of pro­gram will only hap­pen if Fran­cis is made aware of a pre­cise threat that could en­dan­ger the thou­sands of be­liev­ers ex­pected to come and see him, many of whom will be trav­el­ling long dis­tances from neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. Aides say he is de­ter­mined that the som­bre con­text will not af­fect his plans, par­tic­u­larly in CAR. — AFP

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