GENEVA: The United Nations said on Tuesday it was trying to evacuate 19,000 Muslims urgently from Bangui and other parts of Central African Republic who are surrounded by anti-balaka Christian militia threatening their lives.
Anti-balaka forces control major routes to and from Bangui as well as many towns and villages in the southwest, the UN refugee agency said. The militia has become more militarised as it steps up attacks on Muslims and African Union peacekeepers.
“What we don’t want is to stand by and watch people being slaughtered,” UNHCR spokeswoman Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba told a news briefing about a conflict that UN officials have warned could spiral into genocide.
“This is what could happen because the only thing keeping them from being killed right now is the presence of the French troops and the MISCA,” she said, referring to African Union peacekeeping forces, known as MISCA.
Mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power a year ago, perpetrating abuses on the majority Christian population that triggered waves of revenge attacks, leading to thousands of deaths and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
Seleka rebels gave way in January to an interim civilian government. But the government — backed by 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union peacekeepers — has been unable to halt attacks by anti-balaka militias on Muslims, thousands of whom have fled to neighboring countries or sought shelter in camps.
The anti-balaka pose a particular threat to Muslims in the PK12 neighborhood of Bangui; the towns of Boda, Carnot and Berberati to the west of the capital and Bossangoa to the north, Lejeune-Kaba said.
“We fear for the lives of 19,000 Muslims in those locations. UNHCR stands ready to assist with their evacuation to safer areas both within and outside of the country,” she said.
At least 60 people have been killed in Bangui since March 22, mainly in a series of clashes between anti-balaka and Muslims, UN human rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said.
“In the light of this further deterioration of the security situation, we once again urge states to support the secretary-general’s urgent appeal for thousands more peacekeepers and police,” Pouilly told the briefing.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Monday against any support or facilitation of violence by armed groups in Central African Republic after Chadian troops were accused of opening fire on civilians and killing at least 10 people at the weekend.