YAOUNDE, CAMEROON— Cameroon has started repatriating citizens from the Central African Republic as the sectarian crisis continues in the neighboring country.
This special flight taking off from the Bangui International Airport carries more than 300 Cameroonians. They are among about 1,000 Cameroonians who have called on their government to save them from the deepening crisis in the Central African Republic.
The country has spiraled out of control since Seleka rebels toppled President Francois Bozize in March. Last week, hundreds died in the capital in fighting between the former rebels - who are mostly Muslim - and mostly Christian militia groups that formed in response to a wave of killing and looting by the Seleka fighters.
According to Cameroon's acting ambassador to the Central African African Republic, Nicolas Nzoyum, it was very difficult for the Cameroonians to travel home by land because of the growing violence.
“In fact they hired trucks to take them to Garoua Boulaye [on Cameroon's border with CAR] and wanted me to help them by giving them what we call an escort [soldiers] in French to take them there," said Nzoyum. "It was difficult to do it and I asked them to come to the residence [embassy].”
People like 30-year-old Baba Toukour, who said he lived in Bangui for five years, report seeing horrible scenes of violence as fighting Bangui escalated.
“When the dead body of a Muslim was brought to the mosque," he said, "tension rose and they began to kill Christians, Senegalese, Malians, Sudanese, just all foreigners. Many Cameroonians were killed in front of me."
A Cameroonian who worked as a nurse in Bangui, Agnes Limana, also witnessed atrocities. “They have been killing people in front of us, committing crimes, seizing all of our goods, raping, kidnapping.”
A miner from South West Cameroon, Divine Abada, said he decided to come back because he was scared the Central African African Republic was on the brink of ruin.
“These crazy Seleka rebels caught me in the bush, beat us very well, took everything away from us," said Abada. "Those guys, when they just hear that you are a Cameroonian, they say you are a spy for Bozize who has come into the country to cause confusion. We saw so many people that had been killed besides us. They beat us until they took everything, food, money everything.”
One woman said, “Oh, we have been saved. We are safe, my brother. Oh God, yea.”
When the first contingent of 320 Cameroonians arrived at the Douala International Airport, they said they were grateful to God for bringing them back home safely, and sang Cameroon's national anthem.
There are 5,000 Cameroonians in Bangui, and about 20,000 in the Central African African Republic.
Some say they are being targeted by supporters of CAR President Michel Djotodia, because ousted president Bozize was given asylum in Cameroon after he was forced out of power.
Goods destined for the landlocked country are stuck at the Douala sea port in Cameroon, as truck drivers refuse to transport them to Central African African Republic for fear they may be killed and the goods looted by rebels.
Last month, Djotodia dispatched special envoys to neighboring countries to make a plea for assistance in stabilizing the Central African African Republic.
Peacekeepers have arrived from France and African countries, such as Burundi, but stability in Bangui or other parts of the Central African African Republic so far appears to be out of reach.