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Tensions High in CAR Town of Kaga Bandoro

Local Red Cross workers move bodies from a mass grave at a military camp in the 200 Villas neighborhood of Bangui, Feb. 17, 2014.
Local Red Cross workers move bodies from a mass grave at a military camp in the 200 Villas neighborhood of Bangui, Feb. 17, 2014.
The Central African Republic remains gripped in tit-for-tat inter-communal violence that has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes since December. In the northern town of Kaga Bandoro, tensions have been growing.

Overnight on February 13, a Christian named Medard was gunned down near his home.

He was laid out with a sheet covering him up to his closed eyes. His female relatives crouched at his side keening as his pregnant wife sat beside his head, her face tear-streaked, her expression shell-shocked.

Tensions High in CAR Town of Kaga Bandoro
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Outside the town of Kaga Bandoro, the anger was palpable as neighborhood young people dug his grave.

Some waved machetes, the only weapon they say they have. They said local Muslims killed him.

"We do not need Muslims here. We want the international community to help us find a solution right now. If the Muslims come out here, if the Seleka come out here, we will kill them," said Moussa Varakene, a local resident.

Another local, Jeannot Leger, said, "We are within our rights to revolt. This violence they want, we will go to the end."

On the way back to town, women and children are fleeing into the bush. A mother balanced a suitcase on her head as she herded her three children along. They said there could be trouble today. The shadowy figures of anti-balaka fighters could be seen in the forest near their camp on the edge of town.

There are several hundred anti-balaka militia at that camp. They say they oppose the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and the Chadian MISCA troops, as the African Union peacekeeping force is called in the C.A.R. They accuse the Chadians of siding with Muslims.

The town was taken by Seleka back in December 2012, and several Seleka groups remain.

In the town itself, the market is shuttered. MISCA troops patrol and some Muslim residents are getting ready to head north to Chad.

Issa Dand Jumi took out his national identity card and pointed behind him in the direction of the cemetery where he said his father is buried. He said Muslims were fleeing for the moment but may return.

"We were born here but, now with this religious war, we are fleeing to Chad for refuge. If this divides the country, we will come back to our part," said Jumi.

Seleka members in town have said MISCA has told them to keep the peace. They say they will not act unless provoked.

"If the anti-balaka come into this town, we will finish with them," said Massoud Abakar, a Seleka sergeant.

Back in the Christian neighborhood, people said that they have received threats and don't feel safe going to the cemetery.

A Chadian MISCA commander came to meet with them and offered an escort. He told them his men are not taking sides.

Violence continues unabated. After the fifth murder this week, local authorities declared a curfew.

The mayor of Kaga Bandoro, Thomas Ndomete, looked on as young men loaded the body, wrapped in a tarp, into the back of the MISCA truck.

Mayor Ndomete said this recent spate of murders shows, "there are lots of weapons in town. We need immediate disarmament on all sides, everyone. What worries me is I understand that the shopkeepers have guns as well."

Residents have said the town needs more international troops.

"We are not [secure]. We want the troops reinforced so we can be in peace," said Bagaza Herve, a resident.

MISCA soldiers escorted the body through town to the cemetery. Neighborhood youth followed on foot.

The body was lowered into the grave and dirt shoveled on top. A few young men stepped away and squatted low to the ground hunched over as they cry.

They don't linger at the burial site. MISCA troops escort them home, and the day finishes more or less in calm. Some French reinforcements arrive over the weekend.

Alongside their MISCA counterparts, French troops are trying to mediate tensions.