BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICA REPUBLIC —
Life was never easy for most people in the Central African Republic, one of the continent's poorest countries, plagued by banditry and bad governance for many years. But the violence that has engulfed the CAR for the past year has taken the situation, for many, to a new low.
Kpetene is a neighbourhood in the south of Bangui where according to locals there haven’t been any clashes between the rival militias - the largely Muslim Seleka and the largely Christian or animist anti-Balaka - that have killed hundreds if not thousands elsewhere in the country in the past year.
But talk to anyone in Kpetene and they seem to have lost friends and relatives in the violence.
Abel Nguerefara is a teacher who travelled to the southwestern town of Banguassou last March just after the Seleka had taken control of Bangui.
He said on the way there, he was shocked to find all the administrative buildings had been looted, with documents burned or littering the streets, while Catholic missions had seen their vehicles stolen.
He said on arrival at Banguassou, he learned a Seleka combatant had been killed there and in reprisal the Seleka had taken the local chief, who had stayed with the combatant’s body, and cut his throat. They then killed everyone they could see, he says, and he adds that his younger brother was there and they cut his throat too.
Another teacher now living in Kpetene, Vianney Kpokpo, told VOA he was in the northern town of Bossangoa last September when the anti-Balaka started attacking the Seleka and other Muslims.
One evening, he said, he and his family were at home and he was taking a shower when he saw two Seleka come into the house and they started shooting - first at his little boy, a two-year-old, and then at his younger brother who was surfing the Internet. He said both were killed, the house was burned and he escaped with just the towel he had around him.
A few months later, Kpokpo’s family house in Bangui, where he’s been living with his parents, was also burned down and he’s now left with almost nothing. He cannot find a job, as all his documents were destroyed, and his health is in an increasingly bad state.
He said he has vertigo, he can’t sleep and his stomach is upset. A doctor gave him a prescription for medicines but he can’t afford them. He said at night he lies in bed crying - he just can’t get it together.
Outside the church where we’ve been talking to Kpokpo, the first people we meet tell us matter-of-factly about their friends and neighbors who were killed recently.
Ferdinand Grekoy, said his neighbor next door was killed, and an ex-policeman who lived over there -- he points to a house some 30 metres away - was killed behind that house, along with a Congolese man.
He explained that the Seleka, who he blames for the killings, were retaliating for things that had happened in another district.
There were clashes in the PK12 district, he said, and the Seleka came through here to take their revenge, twice in one day and again two days later. But there have never been clashes between the Seleka and the anti-Balaka here in Kpetene, he insisted.
Before we leave Kpetene, after spending just over an hour there, the teacher Abel Olivier Nguefrara said he just talked to someone in Bouar, a town in the northwest, who said conditions are really bad there.
He said the woman told him that about 50 corpses were found in Bouar on Thursday, and people have been coming to reclaim the bodies. He said nearly all of those people are Muslims.
As we drive away we see French armored cars parked nearby. Our taxi driver said three bodies were found there in the morning.
The CAR’s transitional national parliament is due to elect a new interim president Monday. The U.S. government has urged the parliamentarians to choose the new leader transparently, and to select a leader of integrity who can restore stability to this chaotic, strife-torn country.