World

Muslims imperiled in Central African Republic

Violence against minorities on rise as unrest widens

DAKAR, Senegal — The mob violence wracking Central African Republic imperils the future of the country’s Muslims, with thousands having been slaughtered and many more fleeing the country.

Bangui, the capital, is engulfed in bloodshed and looting, despite the presence of thousands of French and African peacekeepers.

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‘‘We are in a moment where immediate action is needed to stop the killings,’’ Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch said, calling for a full-fledged UN peacekeeping mission. ‘‘Otherwise the future of the Muslim community of this country will be gone.’’

Muslims make up about 15 percent of Central African Republic’s 4.6 million people. More than 800,000 people have fled their homes — about half of those from the capital, according to the United Nations.

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‘‘There are some who don’t want Muslims in this country,’’ Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke said on local radio Saturday. ‘‘But when the Muslims have left the country, what happens next? The Protestants will throw out the Catholics, and then the Baptists against the Evangelists, and finally the animists? It is time we regain control and stop ourselves from plunging into an abyss.’’

Thousands of Muslims left Bangui in a massive convoy Friday that was jeered by crowds of Christians. One Muslim who fell off a truck was quickly killed by the mob. Muslim women who could not get on the trucks tried to hand their children to strangers aboard the vehicles.

Whole neighborhoods are abandoned, and Muslims who cannot leave are hiding inside mosques that have not already been destroyed by angry crowds.

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Across a wide stretch of northwest Central African Republic, Christian militiamen known as the anti-Balaka (or anti-machete) have driven tens of thousands of Muslims out of the area. Many are seeking refuge in Chad or Cameroon, as there are few corners of Central African Republic where Muslims are a majority.

The violence is in reaction to abuses perpetrated by the Muslim Seleka rebels during their 10-month rule that began last March. Seleka fighters tied their victims together and threw them off bridges to drown or be eaten by crocodiles, according to witnesses.

Now that Seleka’s leader Michel Djotodia stepped down from the presidency last month and a precarious civilian interim government is in charge, it is the country’s Muslim minority that is now under assault.

No one knows the true death toll from two months of the worst intercommunal violence in this country’s history: It is often too dangerous for crews to recover the corpses. More than 1,000 were killed during several days of fighting in early December, when a Christian militia attempted to overthrow the Muslim rebel government then in power.

A preliminary investigation into potential war crimes or crimes against humanity has been opened, Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Friday.

Babacar Gaye, the UN’s special representative to Central African Republic, has called for the murderers to be held accountable. Yet in a country where police officers long ago fled their jobs and courthouses are shuttered and looted, it’s not even clear where to begin.

Central African Republic was already one of the world’s poorest and most lawless countries even before the March 2013 coup by Muslim rebels from the north plunged the nation into deeper crisis.

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