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Rising Ethnic Tensions in CAR Fuel Fears of Spike in Violence

FILE - United Nations peacekeepers ride a pickup truck while on patrol in Bangui, Central African Republic, April 24, 2017. U.N. officials are expressing fears over rising ethnic tensions in the country.

The head of United Nations peacekeeping says rising ethnic tensions in Central African Republic are likely to spur greater conflict between the Muslim and Christian communities unless action is taken to defuse the situation.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix says ethnic hate speech is running in parallel with an increase in violence in the Central African Republic. And, he says, he finds this very worrisome.

“We are seeing a surge in very negative messages, very negative antagonistic rhetoric to the effect that ‘foreigners should be eliminated.’ Sort of putting one ethnic component or religious component of this country against the other and this is very worrying and serious.”

Lacroix says it is a key responsibility of the leadership and all those in positions of influence in the Central African Republic to counter those messages.

War between the Muslim Seleka and Christian anti-Balaka armed groups broke out in 2013 after Seleka rebels toppled the Christian president, Francois Bozize.

Peacekeeping chief Lacroix tells VOA every effort is being made to redeploy U.N. forces on the ground to try to mitigate the impact of this violence and to protect civilians.

“We do protect thousands of them [civilians] again in different locations in Central African Republic. We really not only protect them physically from those who want to go after them, but we help them get humanitarian assistance even though this is becoming quite challenging in many areas,” Lacroix said.

The war in the Central African Republic has displaced about half a million people internally and has prompted an almost equal number of people to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The United Nations reports an estimated 2.4 million people - about half the CAR's population - are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Lacroix says the United Nations is trying to reconcile the two ethnic communities by working with religious, civic and political leaders from different walks of life. He says it is crucial to move the political process forward in the CAR to achieve a durable peace.