Despite French Intervention, Million Flee in Central Africa

Violence between Christians and Muslims seems to worsen, despite a French attempt to restore order.

International peacekeepers in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, December 9, 2013
International peacekeepers in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, December 9, 2013 (EMA/Ministère de la Défense)

Despite a French military intervention last month that seemed at first to have stemmed the violence in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, religious killings have continued with no resolution in sight. More than half the city’s population has been displaced and altogether nearly a million people are hiding in bushes or seeking refuge.

“Killings in Bangui and in the rest of the country continue every day and the population remains divided along religious affiliation,” the United Nations’ Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council in New York on Monday.

Sectarian tensions were heightened last year when Michel Djotodia, the leader of a loose grouping of mainly Muslim rebel groups from the north of the country, took power from the Christian president François Bozizé. Not all of the combatants who support him have heeded to his call to lay down their arms, however. Wanton attacks on members of the country’s majority Christian population prompted them to organize in militias as well while Muslim groups also battle among themselves.

A French peacekeeping force of some 1,600 soldiers was able to restore calm to the capital in December but clearly not for long. The continuation of violence suggests a more robust presence is necessary if an even wider conflagration is to be averted.

President François Hollande pledged last month that his troops would remain in the former French colony “as long as necessary for this mission” but the country is pushing for an international force to take over. The African Union is unlikely to be able to mount a mission with financial and logistical support from Western nations. Participation of troops from neighboring Chad would also be problematic. While they are seasoned and probably best equipped, many are Muslim and would not be seen as impartial — just as France is seen as biased against the Muslim rebels.

The Central African Republic is rich in diamonds, gold and uranium but its artificial borders, a legacy of French colonial rule, have ensured decades of instability as the minority Muslim population in the north feels discriminated against by the majority Christians.

Feltman acknowledged in his speech on Monday that Muslims had been marginalized for years “by the successive governments since the country’s independence over fifty years ago.”

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