Most Muslims who haven’t already been killed, have been driven out of the western half of the majority Christian Central African Republic, says the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees.
(See reasons for this ‘cleansing’ in the links at bottom)
REUTERS The bleak warning came as the country’s foreign minister pleaded with the U.N. Security Council to urgently approve a U.N. peacekeeping force to stop the killing.
Widespread violence in the former French colony has claimed thousands of lives since Seleka, a coalition of Muslim northern rebels, seized power a year ago. Attacks intensified in December when “anti-Balaka” militias drawn from the majority Christian population stepped up reprisals on Muslims.
“Since early December we have effectively witnessed a ‘cleansing’ of the majority of the Muslim population in western CAR,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told a meeting of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council on the crisis in the impoverished and landlocked country.
“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,” he said.
The council is considering a U.N. proposal for a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force to stop the country from sliding toward what a top U.N. rights official called “ethnic-religious cleansing.” If approved, the U.N. force would likely not be operational before late summer.
“Just last week, there were about 15,000 people trapped in 18 locations in western CAR, surrounded by anti-Balaka elements and at very high risk of attack,” Guterres said.
“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 that until last year CAR “was largely a stranger to religious conflict.” But the worsening bloodshed has enabled armed groups to use religion as a pretext for violence.
“The demon of religious cleansing must be stopped – now,” he said. Guterres’ spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said western CAR was roughly half the country.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the council that there are more than 650,000 people internally displaced in CAR due to the conflict, over 232,000 in the capital Bangui alone. Nearly 300,000 people have fled to neighboring countries.