ATLANTA- Religious conflict among Christians and Muslims is increasingly destabilizing the Central African Republic (CAR) months after rebel leader Michel Djotodia deposed President Francois Bozize in a coup. Despite promises by Djotodia to address insecurity, the violence has only increased in scope.
Tragically, the fighting represents a break from a tradition of harmony among Christians and Muslims. The Muslim militia, the Seleka, has been responsible for much of the bloodshed directed toward innocent villagers.
Many reports have surfaced detailing gruesome accounts of villages raided by the Seleka late at night. When traditional firepower is not available, many of the attackers rely on the crude effectiveness of their machetes to wreak havoc.
Lacking any security force, the villagers are unable to properly defend against these gruesome incursions. And the French and African Union troops tasked with protecting the innocent seem to be less than effective at combating the bloodshed.
The Seleka forces make up a disparate band of several rebel groups all who seem to go completely unpaid for their activities. The fact the militia is unpaid creates an incentive to terrorize and clear villages in order to provide opportunities to loot.
The Seleka’s main task is to prevent a counter-coup by the anti-balaka (Christian) militia.
The conflict has resulted in thousands being displaced from their homes. Aljazeera reports a United Nations figure of over 60,000 who have fled the country and another 200,000 that have been displaced within the CAR.
What concerns many officials is the potential for the conflict to become a protracted civil war spreading into adjacent countries.
Many of the CAR’s neighbors such as Chad, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have suffered from longstanding conflicts. Another violent civil war could severely destabilize the rest of the region.
There is also the possibility of the CAR’s becoming a failed state amid the conflict. This would provide an environment favorable to extremists and other violent groups.
Both France and the African Union have promised to increase the amount of troops in the country to address the problem.
Currently, France has committed 400 hundred soldiers to the CAR and plan to send another 1,000. The African Union also plans to increase its troop numbers from the current 2,500 to 3,600 this month.
While the Selekas have taken a large amount of the blame for the blooming humanitarian crisis in the CAR, the Christian anti-balaka forces have also propagated the violence.
Several days ago, Christian forces attempted an attack on the Presidential palace in the capital of Bangui. The attack was repelled but not without great casualties inflicted on the locals.
The Christian militias have been increasing the ferocity of their attacks with what many see as revenge against the Muslim forces responsible for March’s coup.
Despite its vast mineral wealth, the CAR remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It has failed to maintain any type of political stability after its independence from France in 1960. Since then it has experienced five coups and several conflicts.
– Zack Lindberg
Sources: The Telegraph, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, The Guardian