Anger boils over in CAR
Bid to stabilise chaotic country as people flee homes
BANGUI: French troops backed by a helicopter traded fire with suspected rebels in a tense Bangui neighbourhood yesterday as France’s military chief arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR) to see how his troops are doing trying to stabilise the lawless country.
The violence that has left the country verging on anarchy showed few signs of abating yesterday in the capital’s Miskine neighbourhood, where about a dozen Muslim men with machetes faced off against a group of Christian youths. Anger boiled over after the overnight death of a Christian taxi driver at the hands of the mostly Muslim former rebels.
The country has descended into chaos since March, when rebel groups overthrew the Christian-led government. Some 1 600 French forces are trying to disarm Bangui, but face a backlash from residents too terrified to give up the weapons they fear they need to defend themselves.
“They are looting our shops and homes. We have the right to intervene and protect ourselves,” said Hassan Annour, a 36-year-old Muslim wielding a machete.
People on both sides have carried out retaliatory violence across CAR, an overwhelmingly Christian country that until March had seen little sectarian strife.
More than 500 people have been killed in the last week, and the UN has warned that toll is expected to rise.
Prime minister Nicolas Tiangaye issued a new warning about the rising violence, urging a rapid disarming of all sides. “The situation must be stopped as soon as possible,” Tiangaye said.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived yesterday to meet troops and commanders who are bolstering regional African peacekeepers in the country.
Even as the French worked to secure the city of 700 000, the UN said more than 160 000 people had fled their homes in Bangui alone.
At least 30 000 are living around the airport guarded by French troops.
Yesterday officials from the UN World Food Programme began a chaotic distribution of rice, oil and split peas to several thousand people.
“We’ve been here for seven days and have not been able to find food,” said Sophie Matias, 45, who was sleeping at the airport with her 10 children.
The charity group Doctors Without Borders has criticised the UN response to the growing crisis.
In an open letter, the aid group said it “deplores the appalling performance of UN humanitarian agencies”.
At Bangui’s airport, tens of thousands are sleeping without shelter. – Sapa-AP
TENSE STAND-OFF: Muslim men with machetes accost a Christian man while checking him for weapons in the Miskine neighbourhood of Bangui, Central African Republic, yesterday.