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Africa

Amnesty: 'Ethnic cleansing' taking place in Central Africa

Amnesty International says 'ethnic cleansing' is an appropriate term to describe Christian milita attacks against Muslims in the Central African Republic. The country is in a state of 'humanitarian crisis.'

The statement by rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday (12.02.2014) corresponds to similar claims made by senior United Nations officals. UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said there was a need to act concertedly and without delay "to avoid continued atrocities on a massive scale." Amnesty said it had documented at least 200 killings of Muslim civilians by the anti-balaka Christian militia. DW spoke to Joanne Mariner, a senior crisis response advisor for Amnesty International in the Central African Republic.

DW: Is it appropriate to use the term ethnic cleansing in this case?

Joanne Mariner: Absolutely! We've been here for three weeks and we've seen a series of large-scale attacks on Muslim civilian communities by anti-balaka Christian militia. These attacks have been carried out with the stated goal of expelling Muslims from the Central African Republic. They have largely succeeded in that goal in that now, when you drive across the country, you find hundreds of towns and villages that are empty of their Muslim populations because there has really been a mass exodus of Muslims from the country.

So this is not just tit-for-tat violence, this is a carefully planned and orchestrated campaign to rid the Central African Republic of its Muslim population?

That's exactly what it is.

What have the victims been telling you about their experiences?

We have visited towns where, after the Seleka forces (of the previous government) left their positions, within days – or, in some cases, within hours – there were attacks by hundreds of anti-balaka, who are generally badly armed but massive in numbers. They went from house to house, searching for and killing Muslims, causing the remaining surviving Muslims to flee, generally to the capital Bangui and from there they've been taking convoys to security in Chad, Cameroon and other neighboring countries. We've gotten a lot of very detailed descriptions of these attacks. We've seen a lot of people with serious injuries, we've seen a lot of bodies. We've also learned of attacks on fleeing Muslims. People who have been trying to get out of the country have been pulled off trucks and killed in the street. They've had their cars shot at. So at this point it's not even safe for Muslims to leave the country, they require a military escort.

From what you've seen, what needs to be done to stop this?

We are calling on the international peacekeeping forces that are now stationed in the Central African Republic to deploy immediately to towns and areas where Muslim populations are threatened, to provide effective protection to the Muslim civilian population and reestablish security. Because clearly the level of hate and animosity is so strong that there needs to be a reconciliation effort, but that reconciliation effort is not going to be able to occur until there are basic conditions of security. At this point Muslims are fleeing so quickly and in such large numbers that there's going to be nobody left to reconcile with when people are ready to do so.

Many of the Muslims who have fled were traders who helped to keep the capital Bangui supplied with provisions. This would suggest that the food situation which is already dire is going to get a lot worse. How does Amnesty International view the future for the civilian population?

There is real concern. In the past week I've spoken to a number of provincial officials who raised this as a serious issue. Villages and towns across the country used to be very mixed with Christians and Muslims and many of the Muslims were traders. They essentially provided the backbone of the economy and the supply chain that brought basic foodstuffs to market in all of these towns and villages. The provincial officials are now worried that, without those Muslim traders, these items are not going to get to market. They have already seen a rise in the price of basic foodstuffs but they fear there are going to be food shortages in the coming months. Already the country is in a state of humanitarian crisis and this is clearly only going to worsen that crisis.

Joanne Mariner is a senior crisis response advisor for Amnesty International in the Central African Republic.

Interview: Mark Caldwell

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