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CAR tense as rebels wreak havoc

David Smith
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NGO for suspension of military commander

A Seleka fighter with his weapon at the Bangui firefighters barracks, turned into a Seleka base in this July photo. —photo: AFP
A Seleka fighter with his weapon at the Bangui firefighters barracks, turned into a Seleka base in this July photo. —photo: AFP

Human rights activists have called for a military commander in Central African Republic (CAR) to be suspended over the pillaging and burning of a town in what they say is a crucial test of the government’s authority.

The NGO Human Rights Watch identified General Abdallah Hamat as responsible for a raid which saw residents flee as hundreds of homes were looted and torched and at least three people were said to have been killed.

President Michel Djotodia has been unable to control the Seleka rebels who brought him to power in a March coup and now stand accused of gruesome massacres of civilians. Former colonial power France has warned that the CAR is on “the verge of genocide”.

Human Rights Watch said on 10 November 2013 its activists saw Hamat, commander of a large section of Ombella-Mpoko province, amass his men in the town of Gaga to join an attack against a local armed group, known as the Anti-Balaka, near the town of Camp Bangui.

Four days later, the rights organisation reached Camp Bangui and found it totally destroyed. “People had fled their homes without time to pack,” it noted. “Chairs were overturned and cooking pots remained on burned-out fires. The centre of the town had been completely pillaged, and the vast majority of homes, sheltering 300 to 400 families, had been burned.” Survivors in Camp Bangui said Seleka forces — now nominally part of the national army — were responsible. Hamat and another senior military officer acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that their forces had been at Camp Bangui and there had been combat, causing some damage.

The NGO was told that three dead bodies found after the attack were all civilians and estimates that the death toll was probably higher.

Human Rights Watch also said it observed a high number of what appeared to be child soldiers in Hamat’s ranks. Asked about the age of one carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a commander confirmed he was eight years old and “a good shooter”. Religious leaders have pleaded for peace as sectarian tensions worsen between the mainly Muslim Seleka and the majority Christian population, some of whom are fighting back through the Anti-Balaka.

The CAR government in the capital, Bangui, is sending out mixed messages about the crisis. Guy Simplice Kodegue, the Cabinet Director, complained of a lack of resources to control the Seleka but insisted: “It is not a genocide. It is not what happened in Rwanda. There are also killings going on every day in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt but they don’t get talked about. In the CAR we are less than 5 million people. It gets exaggerated because we are a weak country. The US wants to make the CAR a problem so it can chase the Lord’s Resistance Army.” However, Gaston Mackouzangba, Public Labour Minister and government spokesman, gave a more pessimistic assessment. “If they don’t stop the killings, it will become a genocide or civil war. The Seleka are killing thousands of people in the provinces and Bangui. Every day they kill, everywhere you find corpses. Even as ministers, we are afraid. Maybe one day they can kill us.

The CAR’s ousted President, Francois Bozize, a Christian, fled the capital in March as the Seleka, including mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, overran the city. There is a 2,500-strong African regional peacekeeping force and about 400 French troops in the landlocked country of 4.6 million people. The UN is debating its next move. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013


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