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CAR Capital Tense After Militia Disarmament Operation

  • Anne Look

MISCA military soldiers check houses during an operation in the Boy-rabe neighborhood of Bangui, Central African Republic, Feb. 15, 2014.

MISCA military soldiers check houses during an operation in the Boy-rabe neighborhood of Bangui, Central African Republic, Feb. 15, 2014.

The C.A.R. capital Bangui remains tense Sunday, one day after French and African troops embarked on a major operation to disarm local militias known as the anti-balaka. Those groups are accused of carrying out revenge attacks against Muslims. The attacks have caused tens of thousands to flee the capital in recent weeks.

It is here in the Boye Rabe neighborhood, the fiefdom of the anti-balaka, that French and African troops went door to door Saturday confiscating weapons and munitions and rounding up anti-balaka leaders.

The troops say they were acting at the request of state judicial authorities.

C.A.R.'s interim government has declared war on the anti-balaka. French and African Union troops say they are public enemy number one.

Here in Boye Rabe, anti-balaka members say if it is war they want, it is war they will get. They say they are getting ready. They say if the authorities want to provoke them, they will respond.

A spokesman for the anti-balaka says they are demanding the release of the 10 people that were arrested.

The militia's political coordinator, ex-minister Patrice Edouard Ngaissona - the so-called big fish of this loosely unified movement - evaded capture Saturday.

A banner hangs over the entry to Boye Rabe. It is addressed to the French force, Sangaris, and the AU troops known as MISCA. It says "the people are ready to take to the streets."

Some residents here say forcibly disarming the anti-balaka is a bad idea.

Resident Ngaro Nadine says "why did they arrest those leaders? They were not in uniform or out with any weapons."

She says "if you want to disarm the anti-balaka, it is better to first disarm the Seleka. It is the Seleka who have been massacring and killing. Now it is the anti-balaka who are strong."

She says the national army is weak and the population is depending on the anti-balaka for protection.

The anti-balaka say they want the same treatment as the Seleka rebels. They want to be barracked, paid and included in a forthcoming disarmament and reintegration process.

International troops say that is not going to happen.

The C.A.R. has been in chaos since last March when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels from the north overthrew the government.

The anti-balaka rose up in opposition to widespread Seleka abuses against civilians. The anti-balaka include ex-military loyal to ousted president Francois Bozize.

They launched an assault on Seleka rebels in the capital in December. Inter-communal killing ensued. The anti-balaka movement descended into mass looting and revenge attacks against the country's Muslim minority.