BOSSANGOA, CAR —
Chaos and violence have gripped the Central African Republic since March when a coup by Muslim rebels and former mercenaries installed the country's first Muslim leader and then went on a rampage.
Joined by common criminals, the de facto state army, calling itself "Seleka", or alliance, has been murdering, raping and looting with impunity. In the northern town of Bossangoa, some 40,000 people have sought refuge - a fraction of those who have fled increasingly sectarian violence.
Deserted, razed villages line more than 100 kilometers of road south of Bossangoa, where tens of thousands of people are seeking shelter in a Catholic mission. They fled the Seleka, whose brutalities have driven some 400,000 people in the Central African Republic from their homes.
Bishop Nestor Aziagba said the foreign mercenaries that seized CAR's presidency for Michel Djotodia, are responsible for the many abuses against the population.
“So they started committing [abuses], against the local population, looting their properties, cows, ransacking their crops, burning down everything they have, and the government is not doing anything to protect them,” said Aziagba.
This brutality has turned a political conflict into a human rights catastrophe, involving sectarian bloodletting.
Among the new arrivals to the overcrowded camp is Dofio Rodriguez, who fled a Seleka attack that killed 30 people.
“After coming from their base and circling the village, one Friday morning at 5 a.m. the Seleka started firing, sustained gunfire, with bullets flying everywhere, killing people, children, men. You had to run to escape,” recalled Rodriguez.
In the Muslim quarter, trader Saleh Garba says he has documented over 500 deaths carried out by Christians against Muslims, including a September attack on two villages near Bossangoa.
“They massacred all the Muslims living there. There were some who were over 50, 60, 70 [years old], who lived in the village. They killed everyone -- men, women -- even pregnant women. They beat them until the babies came out,” said Garba.
A handful of some 3,000 regional peacekeepers guard the Catholic mission and a school where some 1,000 Muslims are also seeking refuge, mainly from Christian self-defense groups.
The defense groups are armed with bows and arrows, daggers and machetes.
With all security forces and officials having fled months ago, a few thousand regional troops have the seemingly impossible task of protecting CAR's people from heavily-armed, marauding gangs. The chaotic situation has left both Muslims and Christians praying for a proper intervention that can quell the violence and stop the bloodshed.