The group Human Rights Watch reports it has uncovered evidence of massacres in remote villages in Central African Republic. It accuses both anti-balaka militias and Seleka fighters for the attacks. The armed groups have been waging inter-communal violence since December.
Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert said it took time to learn the details of the attacks.
“The southwest of the Central African Republic is a very remote area. It actually took us days just to reach the area where these massacres have taken place. We had heard rumors of large-scale killings in the southwest for weeks now, but we finally managed to get there and to get direct eyewitness testimonies about what’s been happening in that part of the country,” he said.
Two attacks occurred on the village of Guen. The first attack came on February 1st and the next, four days later. Human Rights Watch said anti-balaka militias killed 72 Muslim men and boys, some as young as nine. Eyewitnesses said the victims were shot or hacked with machetes, or both.
HRW researcher Lewis Mudge said, “There seems to be a general strategy on the part of the anti-balaka to target men and males. And they do not make a difference between boys and men. They don’t see a young man at the age of 12 or 13 as being any different from a man in his 30s. So, they are certainly targeting any male that they can get their hands on except for the very young. We do see them sparing young boys, five, six, seven years old.”
Mudge said that while anti-balaka groups around the capital Bangui appear to have some organization, it’s not the case with those in southwestern CAR.
“These anti-balaka groups really are just criminal gangs, bands of thugs. The town of Carnot, which is a major diamond producing area, has at least 12 anti-balaka groups that have staked-out territories. Down in Berberati it’s very, very difficult to know who actually is controlling the anti-balaka. They seem to exist more for profit and to harass people and try to get money,” he said.
Human Rights Watch reported another massacre occurred February 19th in the village of Yakongo. It’s about 30 kilometers from Guen. This time the attack is blamed on the mostly Muslim Seleka fighters and Peuhl cattle herders. Nineteen people were killed in Yakongo, along with two anti-balaka fighters. Eyewitnesses said one of the victims was a
two-year-old child, who died in his mother’s arms after being shot.
Mudge said that most of the Seleka left southwest CAR in late January and early February and moved east. Those remaining have joined with the Peuhl, who are moving cattle from CAR to Cameroon
“It seems that they’re attacking villages out of both revenge and also to replenish lost food supplies. Because in every attack we are noting that they focus on stealing the manioc and the peanut stocks,” said Mudge.
Both Yakongo and Guen are located on a main road linking the towns of Boda and Carnot, where thousands of Muslims have taken shelter from anti-balaka attacks.
Anti-balaka militias arose last December in response to Seleka attacks against Christian and traditional religion communities. Earlier in 2013, the former rebels forced President Francois Bozize from power. There has been no effective government since then despite two interim presidents, including Michel Djotodia, the former Seleka leader. Anti-balaka fighters appear to have the upper hand in much of the country.
Human Rights Watch’s Bouckaert said it appears the conflict is nearing the end stage in many parts of western CAR.
“These really are the last remaining Muslim communities from a population of hundreds of thousands, who used to live in these areas. The vast majority of the Muslims have now fled to neighboring Chad or Cameroon.”
U.N. agencies are looking for safe locations in the north of the country to relocate Muslims from Bangui, Boda, Carnot, Berberati and Bossangoa. They have some protection there from French and African forces, but Bouckaert said Muslims in remote areas do not.
“They continue to be attacked, but they also are in a horrific humanitarian condition. In some of the places we visited we actually found people starving to death because they were unable to access food,” he said.
He said that a much bigger international military presence is needed in CAR. Current peacekeepers are too few in an area that’s too big.
“They are very limited in number. There are only 6,000 African peacekeepers and about 2,000 French troops on the ground in a country which is larger than France. But we are concerned