Exodus comes after two months of sectarian violence
Thousands of Muslims fled for their lives from the capital of Central African Republic on Friday, with Christian crowds cheering as the truckloads of Muslim families made their way out of town. One man who fell off a truck was subsequently killed and his body mutilated, highlighting the savagery faced by those Muslims who stayed behind.
The convoy of some 500 cars, trucks and motorcycles was guarded by heavily armed soldiers from Chad, a neighbouring predominantly Muslim country. The exodus comes after two months of sectarian violence in Central African Republic’s capital that has targeted Muslims accused of collaborating with the now—sidelined rebel government.
In recent weeks, angry mobs have set fire to mosques and have brutally killed and mutilated Muslims. On Wednesday, one Muslim suspected of having aided last year’s rebellion was attacked for 15 minutes with knives, bricks and feet. Uniformed soldiers then paraded his body through the streets before it was dismembered and set ablaze.
“It really is a horrific situation. All over Bangui, entire Muslim neighbourhoods are being destroyed and emptied,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, who has gotten trapped Muslims to safety under the guard of peacekeepers.
“Their buildings are being destroyed and being taken apart, brick by brick, roof by roof, to wipe out any sign of their once existence in this country,” he added.
Some trucks broke down even before they could leave Bangui on Friday and had to be abandoned.
The passengers jumped aboard other trucks, facing constant jeering, threats and stone throwing from the watching crowd.
“The Christians say the Muslims must go back where they came from, that’s why we are going home,” said Osmani Benui as she fled Bangui. “We had no possibility to stay on because we had no protection.”
Central African Republic is a predominantly Christian country, with a sizeable Muslim population in its north near the borders with Sudan and Chad. While some of those fleeing have ties to Chad, many of the Muslims who resided in Central African Republic’s capital had lived there for generations.
An alliance of Muslim rebel groups from the north united to overthrow the president of a decade last March, though their grievances were political and economic not religious.
The rebels known as Seleka were aided by Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries, and quickly became bitterly despised by Christians in the capital after the fighters went on looting sprees, raping and killing civilians at random.