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'Religious cleansing' in CAR

March 6, 2014

Christian militias have driven out most Muslims living in the western Central African Republic (CAR), according to the UN refugee chief. CAR's foreign minister has called for a surge of peacekeepers to halt the violence.

Central African Republic, Muslim citizens 20.01.2014
Image: picture alliance/Amnesty International

Christian militias have already "cleansed" most Muslims from the western Central African Republic, the UN high commissioner for refugees told the Security Council on Thursday.

"Tens of thousands of them (Muslims) have left the country, the second refugee outflow of the current crisis, and most of those remaining are under permanent threat," Antonio Guterres said.

The UN refugee chief went on to say that some 15,000 people were trapped in 18 locations in western CAR, where they were surrounded by Christian "anti-Balaka" militias.

"International forces are present in some of these sites, but if more security is not made available immediately, many of these civilians risk being killed right before our eyes," Guterres said.

"The demon of religious cleansing must be stopped now," he told the Security Council.

Robust UN peacekeeping plan

The Security Council met on Thursday to consider a plan, drafted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, that would deploy 12,000 UN peacekeepers to CAR.

"We would roll out the red carpet for them tomorrow," said CAR's foreign minister, Toussaint Kongo-Doudou. "There are no alternatives in terms of survival."

France has already deployed troops to its former colony and has promised to beef up its force to 2,000 soldiers. The African Union has 6,000 soldiers stationed in the country, while the EU has committed another 1,000 troops to the planned peacekeeping force in CAR.

So far, the international troops stationed in the country have failed to stop the violence there, leading to calls for additional peacekeepers under a UN mandate.

'Ethnic-religious violence'

CAR has been gripped by violence since last March, when Muslim "Seleka" rebels overthrew the president. Vigilante factions within the group then went on a raping, killing and pillaging spree, provoking Christians to form the self-defense militias.

Since December, the Christian militias have gained the upper hand, targeting Muslim civilians. UN officials have described the violence as "ethnic-religious" cleansing.

According to the UN humanitarian chief, more than 650,000 people are internally displaced in CAR, while 300,000 have fled to neighboring countries. CAR has a total population of just over five million.

Around 50 percent of the country identifies as Christian, while 15 percent of the population identifies as Muslim. The rest of the population practices indigenous beliefs.

slk/rc (AP, Reuters)