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Sectarian Violence Spreads to Southeastern C.A.R.

Bambari, CAR

Violence has broken out between Christians and Muslims in the southeast of the Central African Republic, a part of the country that had not previously experienced sectarian conflict. Aid workers report that the Ugandan army, stationed in the area to fight Ugandan rebels, has been helping to protect civilians at risk from this new threat.

The southeastern corner of the C.A.R. escaped the conflict that engulfed most of the country when the largely Muslim Seleka rebel alliance swept to power in 2013.

But the area, known as Haut Mbomou district, has had its own security problems. For years Ugandan rebels of the LRA, or Lord's Resistance Army, have terrorized villagers there. Their most recent attack was less than two months ago.

And now an inter-community feud has flared up, showing the area is not immune to the sectarian violence that has emptied the western C.A.R. of most of its Muslim population.

The United Nations says at least 2,000 people have fled their homes in Zemio, the main town in Haut Mbomou, since "a member of a community-at-risk" -- in other words a Muslim -- was killed near the town on Tuesday, sparking retaliation.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French acronym MSF, is running a hospital in Zemio.
Angelika Herb is MSF Holland's deputy coordinator in the C.A.R.

“Already in the evening of Tuesday continuing on Wednesday, most of the people of downtown Zemio moved to a place a bit outside of the town, close to the base of the Ugandan army,” Herb said.

Ugandan troops have been in the area for several years, conducting operations against the LRA. It’s not known how many are in Zemio but it’s understood another 30 have been flown in since Tuesday to help secure the town.

Aid workers in Zemio say grenades and automatic weapons have been used in the violence and more than 30 houses have been burned. MSF said on Thursday it had treated nine wounded people in Zemio in the past 72 hours.

MSF workers had to negotiate their way past hostile combatants to get the wounded out of the Muslim part of town.

“So the moment we found out there were wounded people to be picked up, because they were not able to get to the hospital on their own, MSF had to find and to negotiate our team through to the hospital, explaining what it means, as MSF, to ensure access to health care at all times,” Herb said.

The United Nations said on Friday that violence in the area persists. Aid agencies are sending a fact finding team to Zemio Saturday.