Reports are flashing across the wires that Central African Republic is embroiled in massive inter-religious violence that is mere stages away from full-on genocide. A coup in March saw Muslim rebels overthrow then president François Bozizé. Now, Central African Republic is being led by an interim president, Michel Djotodia. Djtodia is the country’s first Muslim president. Muslims make up about 15% of the population in the Central African Republic.
Amid heavy infighting and violence, France is backing an African Union led international mission in the Central Africa Republic in order to quell the killing and prevent any steps toward increased religious violence which could lead to genocide. Yesterday, French President Francois Hollande made a stop in Bangui after visiting South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Two French paratroopers were killed in combat on Monday after fighting broke out at Bangui’s airport. Hollande made a stop to pay his respects to the fallen soldiers and to speak to the French troops who are working to restore order in the Central African Republic after over 300 people, according to the Red Cross, were killed in massacres in Bangui. Some of those killings include lynchings and stoning.
Hollande has called for the former French colony to have swift elections by 2015. Hollande has also ordered increased troops to the Central African Republic to bring the total to 1600. Hollande assured the French that the number will remain stable at 1600 especially as the African Union is bringing on 6000 of its troops.
United States Presence
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered air support for the international efforts in the Central Africa Republic after receiving a request from French Minister of Defense Yves Le Drian. US AFRICOM will transport African troops from Birundi to Central African Republic.
“The United States is joining the international community in this effort because of our belief that immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in the Central African Republic, and because of our interest in peace and security in the region. We continue to work to identify additional resources that might be available to help address further requests for assistance to support the international community’s efforts in the CAR.”
Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, called interim president Djotodia and insisted that he use his influence to stop the violence and told him that the United States is watching the situation closely in the CAR and would hold all parties responsible for any atrocities against its citizens.
GenocideWatch.org released a statement that the CAR is in Stage 8, the stage right before full scale genocide. And Somini Sumgupta wrote in the New York Times that UN officials are working to stave off genocide especially after getting it wrong in both Bosnia and Rwanda.
With more than 60,000 misplaced people in the CAR, the World Food Programme is on the ground providing much-needed food essentials for the CAR citizens. In a statement this week the World Food Programme says it has fed 19,000 people in the first three days in Bangui and are setting up mobile operations to reach those where WFP offices have not been established. The WFP fears the need will increase as violence increases.
Doctors Without Borders is calling on both Muslim rebels and Christian militias to allow the wounded to get medical care in hospitals.
UNICEF is working with rebels and the militias to free child soldiers from fighting and is supplying medical supplies for children who have been injured in the conflict. Aid workers on the ground in Bangui are reporting children at local hospitals are coming in with bullet and machete wounds.
“It’s the first time that something like this happened to me, to us”, said Kelley, 17, who is being treated at the hospital for a gun shot to the chest, sustained while he was walking to school last Thursday. “I’m worried for my family, my friends, and my country.”
The past lessons of Rwanda and Bosnia are strongly driving international efforts to get the inter-religious bloodletting under control in the Central African Republic. Elections won’t be slated until 2015 at the earliest which will cause instability throughout the country until then and most likely immediately afterward.
We have seen in the past that fighting factions vying for ultimate control of an entire country and its resources don’t relinquish power easily. As the Christians and Muslims continue to fight amid a weak power structure it will be up to the international community to make sure humanitarian aid is sufficient and the violence stops. Increased violence may warrant increased troop levels. Only time will tell. Right now, France is saying relative order has been forged in Bangui due to international troop presence.