CAR President Samba-Panza 'declares war' on militias

An Anti-Balaka fighter, member of a militia opposed to the Seleka rebel group, lifts up a machete threatening any Seleka that may attack in Bangui on December 14, 2013 The Christian militias claim to be taking revenge for atrocities perpetrated by Muslims

Central African Republic President Catherine Samba-Panza has said she will "go to war" with Christian militias who are slaughtering Muslims.

She said the militias, called anti-balaka, had "lost their sense of mission" and had become "the ones who kill, who pillage, who are violent".

The militias claim to be taking revenge for atrocities by Muslims last year.

Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled into Cameroon and Chad and many more are living in camps inside CAR.

Amnesty International has described the situation as "ethnic cleansing".

Across this chaotic nation, many thousands of Muslims are now under siege. Some families have found shelter in mosques or churches. A few are protected by French or African peacekeepers. Most are now desperately looking for ways to escape abroad.

After months of horrific violence, a once well-integrated society has divided sharply along religious lines. The Muslim minority finds itself splintered into an archipelago of isolation and terror.

Despite some heroic efforts at local mediation, the situation appears to be changing fast, and for the worse, with thousands of Muslims now abandoning towns that had been considered relatively safe.

There are simply not enough French or African peacekeepers to patrol this vast country, and almost no credible local institutions in place to intervene. Christian militias continue to operate roadblocks and openly warn of their determination to kill or expel all Muslims.

But Ms Samba-Panza rejected that label and characterised the violence as a "security problem".

"They think that because I'm a woman, I'm weak. But now the anti-balaka who want to kill will themselves be hunted," she said in a speech.

Many of the Muslims who have fled were traders or involved in the food business.

Their absence has sparked a collapse in food distribution and worsened a humanitarian crisis.

Witnesses say dozens of dusty stalls at one market in the capital Bangui stand empty.

The only meat available is a small amount of pork from locally reared pigs.

The UN's World Food Programme has started a massive month-long airlift of food into CAR from Cameroon, with the first flight arriving on Wednesday.

A total of 1,800 tonnes of cereal will be delivered in the coming weeks, but the WFP says almost 10 times that amount will be needed.

It says about 1.3 million people - a quarter of the population - need food aid.

This phase of CAR's troubles began when largely Muslim Seleka rebels stormed through the country last year.

They toppled the government in March and installed their leader as interim president.

He stepped down last month after failing to quell communal violence, and Ms Samba-Panza was chosen to lead the country to an election.

Displaced children at a camp at Bangui airport on 11 February 2014 Grounded plans at M'poko airport in Bangui have become temporary homes for thousands of people in the Central African Republic.
Displaced person at a camp at Bangui airport on 11 February 2014 The airport provides a sense of safety, located near the bases of French and African peacekeeping troops.
Displaced person at a camp at Bangui airport on 11 February 2014 But food is in short supply for residents of the tented city and beyond.
Displaced people at a camp at Bangui airport on 11 February 2014 Aid workers say people are still arriving at the camp with horrendous wounds from machete attacks and shootings.

Some 7,000 troops - from France and African countries - have been mandated by the UN to help restore order.

CAR's religious make-up

  • Christians - 50%
  • Muslims - 15%
  • Indigenous beliefs - 35%

Source: Index Mundi

But so far they have failed to stop the unrest, which has intensified since the Seleka leader stood down as president.

Several Muslims have been brutally killed and their bodies mutilated in the streets of the capital Bangui.

CAR is rich in gold, diamonds and other natural resources but decades of unrest and mismanagement have left most of its people stuck in poverty.

Map showing the location of the Central African Republic and the countries that border it

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