Central African Republic killings send entire town fleeing

AP News
Posted: May 27, 2017 6:07 AM
Central African Republic killings send entire town fleeing

BRIA, Central African Republic (AP) — Scores of blackened homes dot this town where more than 41,000 people have fled for their lives.

Deadly sectarian violence that has gripped Central African Republic since 2013 is surging again, even spreading to parts of the country that once had been spared. The number of people displaced could reach half a million by month's end, the United Nations says, a level not seen in more than three years.

Some people have had little time to escape.

"I have nothing. No sheets, no covers. I have nothing," says 50-year-old Marie Edith Mambleka.

She sits on the ground in a squalid camp for the displaced, surrounded by people constructing makeshift shelters. Her son was killed when the clashes erupted in Bria last week. Her house was destroyed.

She has yet to bury her son. "We suffer a lot," she says. "We don't even have the ability to recover our dead."

The United Nations says about 300 people have been killed and 200 wounded in the past two weeks alone in Bria and a handful of other towns.

The upsurge in violence in Central African Republic began late last year. The government, with the support of a 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission, has been trying to calm the country that descended into sectarian fighting in 2013 when Muslim rebels overthrew the Christian president.

But large parts of one of the world's poorest countries remain unstable, and the U.N. mission has said it doesn't have enough troops to protect civilians.

In Bria, more than 20 people were killed in the recent fighting between armed groups, likely elements of a mostly Muslim Seleka faction clashing with elements of Christian anti-Balaka rebels. Dozens were wounded.

The U.N. humanitarian agency said the unprecedented violence emptied Bria of its population, sending an "uninterrupted stream" of residents toward makeshift camps.

The largest has been set up near the local U.N. base, swelling to over 25,000 people in just two days.

Elsewhere, hundreds of people are staying in the courtyard of the local hospital, seeking respite from the blazing sun under a large tree. Small cooking fires fill the air with smoke.

Scores of other people fled to a local church.

"Christians thought God would protect us," says 61-year-old Matthias Mackayendji, gesturing at the scene around him. Children are everywhere. Women chop wood and rinse beef next to a crude fire.

As Mackayendji speaks, torrential rain begins to fall. Water soaks the mats and housewares strewn on the ground. The deluge drives everyone, sweating, into the darkened church, where the pastor quietly chimes in.

"They didn't attack another armed group. They attacked the population. Civilians," Pastor Andre Sandje laments.

He says his focus has been on offering moral and spiritual support to those seeking shelter.

Mackayendji says he is too scared to return home until the fighters have been disarmed or driven out of town.

"They are cruel. They don't have pity," he says. "They kill people without cause."

Even though the armed groups are divided along religious lines, both Muslims and Christians alike are huddled in the camps. Several Christians shared stories of how their Muslim neighbors saved them or hid them.

They are now united in misery. "There's been too much loss," says 49-year-old Galbert Ndemaba, who is too scared to return home and doesn't know if his home is still standing. He pleads for help from Europe and the United States. "Please, think of us."

The humanitarian appeal for aid for Central African Republic is only 16 percent funded. The U.N. humanitarian agency warns that aid stocks have quickly diminished and there is a food emergency.

Now the rainy season's downpours are turning the camps for the displaced into pits of mud, which means the risk of epidemics is strong, says Oxfam's field manager in Bria, Noel Zigani.

"The living conditions are very hard for the displaced," Zigani says, "even unhuman."