Af­ter mas­sacre, Cen­tral African town yearns for peace

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A month af­ter rebels killed dozens of civil­ians in Kaga Bandoro, res­i­dents of the Cen­tral African Republic town still live in fear de­spite the pres­ence of UN peace­keep­ers in the coun­try and the prospect of na­tion­wide dis­ar­ma­ment. Re­turn­ing to the scene of the mas­sacre for the first time, Sylvie pointed to the ru­ins of the small home she built in what was a set­tle­ment for 8,000 civil­ians dis­placed dur­ing years of un­rest.

“That’s where I lived for three years,” she said, re­cov­er­ing a comb from the scorched ground be­tween the low walls of now roof­less huts. On Oc­to­ber 12 the pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian set­tle­ment was at­tacked by rem­nants of the mostly Mus­lim rebel “Seleka” coali­tion, which over­threw the na­tional gov­ern­ment in March 2013, only to be dis­lodged the fol­low­ing Jan­uary.

In ap­par­ent reprisal for the death of one of their own, the at­tack­ers killed at least 37 peo­ple and set fire to the camp.”Peo­ple were burned on the spot, like two chil­dren and a grand­mother over there,” said site watch­man Michel Kenze, near a pump where chil­dren were draw­ing wa­ter. Af­ter the at­tack, vic­tims’ corpses were left in the open to be eaten by wild pigs and other animals. Thou­sands of sur­vivors, in­clud­ing Sylvie, fled to set up an­other camp be­tween a base of the UN’s MINUSCA peace­keep­ing force and the run­way of the town’s air­port.

No longer in school

Sylvie now makes ends meet sell­ing peanuts and frit­ters in a mar­ket­place op­po­site the MINUSCA base. On the edge of the run­way, young girls sing songs and play games. They are not in school. “We had just started the school year on Septem­ber 19. On Oc­to­ber 12, an ed­u­ca­tion in­spec­tor was killed. Af­ter that, in­spec­tions shut down,” said an aid worker with MINUSCA. “Civil ser­vants had re­turned (to Kaga Bandoro), but they went back to Ban­gui af­ter what hap­pened,” said lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial Paul Frad­jala, who never ven­tures far from the UN base. The large coun­try’s army, po­lice and gov­ern­ment have a very lim­ited pres­ence out­side the cap­i­tal, Ban­gui.

In 2013, Seleka’s coup led to the for­ma­tion of “anti-Balaka” vig­i­lante units, drawn from the Chris­tian ma­jor­ity, which be­gan to tar­get Mus­lims. Both sides com­mit­ted wide­spread atroc­i­ties in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, even af­ter Seleka was chased from power. “We want peace, we want the armed groups to be dis­armed,” Sylvie said in her new home, a hut made from plas­tic sheet­ing where she stores her few pos­ses­sions: a note­book, a jer­rycan and an old mos­quito net. A Na­tional pro­gram to dis­arm fight­ers in CAR was of­fi­cially launched a year ago, but in prac­tice lit­tle has been done since to ac­tu­ally col­lect weapons or de­mo­bi­lize com­bat­ants.

Sylvie no longer dares to visit Mus­lim traders on the far side of town over a bridge guarded by a few Pak­istani UN troops-mem­bers of the MINUSCA con­tin­gent ac­cused of stand­ing by as last month’s mas­sacre un­folded. The Mus­lim quar­ter is busy with shops sell­ing food and clothes, a mo­tel and a garage fix­ing mo­tor­bike taxis. In this part of town, Seleka fight­ers, along with gun­men from neigh­bor­ing Su­dan and Chad, rub shoul­ders with civil­ians, res­i­dents say. “In the dis­placed per­sons’ camps, there are also armed men among the civil­ians and MINUSCA sees and knows about them,” coun­ters Idriss Al Bachar, a young Seleka leader. —AFP

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