GENEVA (AP) — Leaders of a U.N. investigation of human rights abuses in Central African Republic said they will look into "reports of genocide" as they launched the probe Monday.
The chair of the investigation, Bernard Acho Muna, said he is concerned that hate propaganda used by both Christians and Muslims in the conflict will fuel more violence.
"We are hoping that our presence and the investigations we are doing will be a signal that the people who are making this hate propaganda will not move to action," said Muna.
The U.N. panel is comprised of Muna — a Cameroonian lawyer who was deputy chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda — former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda and Mauritanian human rights lawyer Fatimata M'Baye. The three were flying later Monday to the capital Bangui.
Political disputes in Central African Republican are turning increasingly sectarian as Muslims are killed, Qurans are destroyed and mosques are set on fire. Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to neighboring countries in recent months.
In December, the 15-nation Security Council mandated an investigation of human rights abuses in Central African Republic for an initial period of one year to compile information and help identify perpetrators with an aim toward prosecuting them. Muna said the investigating panel would report on its work in June and December.
The International Criminal Court based at The Hague, Netherlands, also has opened a preliminary investigation as Christian and Muslim groups clash in the chronically instable country. The Security Council also is mulling the establishment in Central African Republic of what would be the U.N.'s third largest peacekeeping force, behind those in Sudan and Congo.
Muna said his experience in Rwanda "shows that the genocide starts always with propaganda, convincing the population that this group of people is evil, they are bad, (and) they should be eliminated."