Friday, April 25, 2014

Hemmed in by hate, last Muslims in Central Africa capital pray for escape

    Friday, April 25, 2014   No comments

Hundreds of Muslims, among the last remaining in the Central African Republic’s capital after months of brutal sectarian violence, are trapped in a slum desperately hoping to be saved from militia attacks.
Some 1,300 refugees are thought to be holed up in the PK-12 neighbourhood — an area 12 kilometres outside the capital Bangui — having fled from all corners of the conflict-ravaged country. Many have been here for months. Almost 100 were evacuated under international protection on Monday, but the rest are stuck, hemmed in by the mostly Christian “anti-balaka” militias that have launched fierce attacks against the Muslim community.

Once, Muslims and Christians and a variety of ethnic groups lived comfortably together in Bangui. But the cycle of sectarian violence that broke out last year has caused almost the entire Muslim population of the city to flee, leaving their houses abandoned.
The anti-balaka have taken a merciless vengeance on the community after the Seleka, a mostly Muslim rebel group, temporarily seized power in a coup in March 2013. Anti-balaka means “anti-machete” in the local Sango language and refers to the weapon of choice wielded by the Seleka — but also taken up by the vigilantes.
Those stranded in PK-12 have only one wish: to slip quietly into a protected convoy of vehicles headed across the border to Chad.  “We came for two days, but we’ve been here for five months,” said Yaya Yougoudou, one of the community’s elders.
When the Chadian government decided to stop evacuation operations earlier this month — having already brought tens of thousands over the border — it left the families in PK-12 stranded and surrounded by anti-balaka. Their days are a relentless agony. Emaciated faces betray the hunger and disease that run rampant in this slum, now reduced to just two or three rows of houses, where food is increasingly scarce.
“Look over there! The people waiting are anti-balaka. That little bridge is our limit,” said Abacar Hassan, one of the few original inhabitants of the area.
“Over there” is just 100 metres away on the road out of town, which marks a frontier between life and death. Any Muslim crossing that line would be lucky to survive more than 20 seconds.
To the south, on the other side of the road towards Bangui, a French armoured vehicle is the only thing protecting them. Beyond that is nothing but destruction. A few walls are still standing, but all the roofs have collapsed. A small suitcase lies on the ground, ripped apart amid a few discarded plastic objects.


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