On Wednesday Feb. 12, Amnesty International announced that an ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic had begun. In a report, Amnesty International stated that “militia attacks have led to a Muslim exodus of historic proportions.” BBC News reports that attacks on Muslims began last year after the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel force gained power by ousting the president of the Central African Republic. The Muslim Seleka rebel force was accused of killing and raping Christian civilians and destroying entire villages, according to BBC News.
In January, the leader of the Muslim Seleka rebel force stepped down; however, the situation drastically digressed.
Christian vigilante groups, calling themselves the “anti-balaka” self-defense forces, took revenge on Muslims, causing them to flee the CAR capital city of Bangui and other towns, according to BBC News. Amnesty International states that the Seleka fighters are still attacking Christians, despite having left the capital. General Francisco Soriano, the head of the French military mission in the Central African Republic, called the anti-balaka militias “enemies of peace,” according the BBC News.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon warned on Feb. 11 that the country could possibly end up being divided into Muslim and Christian sections.
Amnesty International reports that in order to protect the remaining Muslim communities in the CAR, peacekeeping forces must “break the control of anti-balaka militias and station sufficient troops in towns where Muslims are threatened.” Amnesty criticized the international peacekeeping troops, claiming that they have been hesitant to challenge the anti-balaka militias and slow to protect the threatened Muslim minority. According to reports from both The Guardian and Human Rights Watch, Muslims made up about 15 percent of the Central African Republic’s 4.6 million population before the current crisis began.
The Muslim people are finding it difficult to flee the CAR. Attacks by anti-balaka militias on Muslim convoys are frequent. On Feb. 15, a mass convoy of more than 100 cars and trucks attempting to carry thousands of Muslims out of Bangui were forced to turn back due to Christian anti-balaka militias.
African peacekeepers, fearing the convoy would come under attack in some of the more dangerous parts of Bangui, forced it to turn back while traveling through the Miskine neighborhood, where one vehicle tumbled into a ditch on the side of the road.
The peacekeepers, following orders from a Burundian captain, then went from vehicle to vehicle and instructed everyone to return to a local mosque, according to the Associated Press. This incidence occurred as Amnesty International announced it had uncovered evidence of a new massacre in a village in Bangui. The only survivor was an 11-year-old Muslim girl, discovered hiding in a corner, having watched her mother and father being killed. It was reported that everyone else from the village had either fled or been killed.
For those who have managed to escape the violence of the anti-balaka militias, fleeing the country is still a struggle. Tens of thousands of fleeing Muslims headed to the predominantly Muslim African country of Chad, according to The Guardian. Those who cannot flee have begun to set up tent cities after being displaced from their homes.
The United Nations reports that more than 700,000 people across the Central African Republic have been displaced. This number includes about 290,000 in Bangui alone. Approximately 100,000 of these displaced people have begun to take refuge in Bangui’s M’poko airport, located near both French and African peacekeeping military bases.
In addition, people are seeking refuge in churches, schools and mosques throughout the CAR. France has already sent 1,600 troops to the CAR, which was under their rule until 1960. An additional 5,500 troops from the African Union, called MISCA, have also been sent to the Central African Republic.
There is now a threat of a food crisis, due to the fact that many of the shops and wholesalers in the CAR were run by Muslims, according to NBC News.
The U.N.’s World Food Program has begun a month-long aid airlift. They must deliver the food, being flown in from neighboring Cameroon, by air because the roads are too dangerous to travel without military escorts. The first batch, which included 82 tons of rice, arrived on Feb. 12. The U.N. is expected to send an additional 1,800 tons of cereal within the next few weeks. The U.N. reports that 90 percent of the population is eating just one meal a day.
Editor’s Note: Information from The National Weather Service, CBS News, NBC News and The New York Times was used in this report.