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'Case of sudden death' in violence-torn CARPublish Date: Jan 25, 2014
'Case of sudden death' in violence-torn CAR
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Congolese soldiers part of the MISCA, the African force deployed in the Central African Republic, arrest a looter. PHOTO/AFP
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BANGUI - In the tense capital of the Central African Republic, a French peacekeeper fires his assault rifle into the air to disperse an angry mob of Christians who have set upon a young Muslim man with machetes and rocks.

But the soldier's efforts come too late. A minute later the man lies dead, finished off with a blow to the head with a rock.

The man was just the latest victim of an explosion of inter-religious violence that has plunged the impoverished Central African Republic (CAR) into chaos, killing more than 1,000 last month in the capital alone.

He had jumped from the window of a police station in Bangui -- where he had been taken into protective custody -- and run, semi-naked, down the street as a police officer tried to stop him.

He died in the volatile northern PK-12 district of Bangui, where Christians have moved in to steal property from the homes of fleeing Muslims.

PK-12 is where the roads to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon intersect. A stone's throw away, hundreds of terrified Muslims wait for the Chadian army to escort them on the long and dangerous journey through the bush towards Chad.

"It was a case of sudden death," said the police officer of the young man, a former fighter with the mainly Muslim Seleka force whose March 2013 coup plunged the country into chaos.

"I told him, 'don't go over the crossroads, they will kill you'. But his brother had called him in the morning and asked him to join him on the other side.

"He didn't listen, he jumped out of the window, and they killed him straight away."

"They" are not only the Christian militias known as the "anti-Balaka", set up to avenge attacks by former Seleka fighters, but also ordinary Christians who have gone on the rampage against the few Muslims who have not fled Bangui.

Far from being machete-wielding seasoned militias, many are simply local residents who help themselves to what is left behind whenever a Muslim neighbour flees.

However Muslims are not the only ones at risk.

Christian Serge Gbade has fallen victim to the looters -- despite living barely 100 metres from a French military checkpoint.

"Yes, I'm a Christian, the anti-balakas accused me of selling to Muslims," says Gbade breathlessly after running barefoot to the French soldiers for help.

"They said, 'it's Friday, the Muslim day'", he said rejecting the accusations against him.

Gbade's arms are scratched and bleeding -- he says he only escaped the looters by breaking through the straw roof of his house and jumping.

"They wanted to kill me. They took all my cattle, 417 oxen, 28 pigs, 30 goats, some chickens," he tells a French soldier, who watches the looting through his binoculars.

One looter leaps up onto a roof just 10 metres from the French checkpoint and starts cutting the electric cables. Then three young people go past pushing a corpse in a wheelbarrow -- a looter killed by another robber.

In Bangui -- where carrying a weapon is common and law and order have broken down -- "you no longer know who's shooting at who," said Bernard, a local.

Further along, residents strip bare two businesses that had been squatted by Seleka, removing even their roofs.

Rwandan peacekeepers race down the potholed street after hearing that a woman has just been shot dead as she returned home from the market.

The locals say they slept very badly.

"There's always gunfire," says Norbert. "As soon as they get up in the morning, people listen out for it before they venture outside."

AFP

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