Anger boils over in CAR

Bid to sta­bilise chaotic coun­try as peo­ple flee homes

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - AFRICA - KRISTA LAR­SON

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

PIC­TURE: 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.

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