HAOUSSA, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC —
The Central African Republic is in the midst of a bloody sectarian conflict in a country where the majority Christians once lived peacefully side by side with the Muslim minority. In March of last year, the government was overthrown by a violent alliance of rebels called Seleka - mostly Muslim militants. They were ousted in turn this past January, triggering a murderous cycle of revenge and retribution between Christians and Muslims.
In the western town of Bouar, Muslims are surrounded by Christians who blame them for the violence of the Seleka.
In the Muslim neighborhood Haoussa, most residents have fled their homes, mainly to neighboring Cameroon and those who remain live in constant fear for their lives.
"Just last night we were attacked again," said seventy-five-year-old Mustafa Amoa, one of the community patriarchs. "They started at my brothers’ homes and then came here. They ordered us to open the door. We refused.”
Amoa’s house has heavy doors and is hard to break into. A surrounding wall is topped with barbed wire and glass shards. He says the attackers spent a good part of the night trying to break in, before they were chased away by patrolling French soldiers.
But the attackers struck more than his home.
"They took all my cattle 20 kilometers away from here,” said Amoa.
Community leader Amadou Ahidjo, a butcher, is still in shock.
"This was our livestock market. That’s where we penned the cattle,” he said.
Amoa was a wealthy rancher, but in less than three months, he says, he has lost everything.
“They stole four motorbikes from me. My children’s homes were looted. They took my pickup and a car,” he said.
He now lives with several brothers, nephews and cousins - all of whom have fled their homes in fear.
“Restoring peace in our country will be difficult. Everyone surrounding us is armed, even some children," he said.
French soldiers patrol the town. They keep watch on the central mosque around the clock. Yet the attacks continue.