BOALI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
— The United Nations and international human rights groups say militias in the Central African Republic, known as the anti-Balaka, are carrying out an "ethnic cleansing" of the country's Muslim minority. Muslims are being targeted as payback for abuses committed by the recently ousted Seleka rebel coalition. Muslim residents in the western town of Boali have been living in a church for protection for the past month.
About 500 Muslims are living at one Catholic church in Boali. Many have lost everything. They are getting little to no assistance.
Ibrahim Mohamed was in Boyali, a town further northwest, when the anti-Balaka attacked on January 8.
"They had guns and grenades. We tried to fight back. All we had were bows and arrows. We called Seleka for help and fled into the bush. When Seleka got there, we came out and saw all the dead. The anti-Balaka killed my father, who was the village chief, my two wives and four of my children," said Mohamed.
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Seleka's nine-month rule has ended and throughout the west and in the capital, the anti-Balaka have been seeking revenge for those months of killing, looting and destruction.
It was on January 17 that international troops pushed Seleka out of Boali. The anti-Balaka and local residents turned on the Muslims. Those that could, fled.
Abbot Xavier-Arnaud Fagba went out, door to door, bringing the rest to his parish. "I didn't have a plan. I was just thinking here are brothers in difficulty. They needed help. I went to get them as a pastor and as a Christian. I did it in the name of my faith."
The anti-Balaka tried to attack the church on February 4. Congolese troops fought them off and are guarding the compound.
Mohamed Mouctar said the anti-Balaka grabbed him in the market just two weeks ago. He escaped, but now won't leave the church.
"The anti-Balaka, they tied me up here with rope. Both sides. And my feet as well as behind my back…They are still of a mind to do bad things to Muslims," said Mouctar.
This Muslim neighborhood in Boali sits empty, looted.
A resident from across the way, Guy Blaise Zaze, said the people who lived here collaborated with Seleka. "Before we all worked together, we laughed together. But when Seleka came to Boali, they changed completely. The smallest thing and they got their weapon. The smallest thing and they just wanted to kill Christians."
Locals say that anger continues to simmer.