GENEVA: The UN refugee agency warned Friday that the violence plaguing the Central African Republic was reminiscent of the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica in Bosnia, insisting far more international troops are needed on the ground.
UNHCR civilian protection chief Philippe Leclerc, who has just returned from two months in the Central African Republic, said the situation there “reminded me of… Srebrenica, of the Muslim enclaves in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
“The violence is as tough and the situation of the people is extremely dire,” he told reporters in Geneva.
The 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces is considered the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.
In the Central African Republic, “ethno-religious cleansing is going on in the western and the northern part of the country, targeting Muslims, it is very clear,” Leclerc said, echoing concerns voiced by the international community in recent weeks.
“People have no escape…. There is no way out and people are trapped,” he told AFP.
He said that while there are international forces on the ground, “There are not enough troops and with the multiplication of all of these places where such massacres could potentially take place, it is very difficult for them to be in all areas at the same time.”
His comments came as French President Francois Hollande was expected in the Central African capital Bangui, nearly three months into a mission to stop deadly sectarian killing that is proving more difficult than planned.
Rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group seized power nearly a year ago, but some went rogue and waged a campaign of violence against the civilian population, leading to the formation of Christian vigilante groups that have in turn committed abuses against the Muslim minority.
On Thursday morning, 400 additional French troops arrived to reinforce the 1,600 already on the ground. The European Union has also pledged up to 1,000 troops, but negotiations on which countries will provide them are continuing in Brussels.
The African Union has also deployed a 6,000-troop force in the country.
Leclerc told AFP Friday he thought a doubling of the international troop presence on the ground in the country “would help.”
“It’s not too late,” he said.