Violence erupted in two villages in the southwestern region of the Central African Republic on Tuesday, following a series of attacks waged by the primarily Christian anti-balaka militia over the weekend in a new flare-up of ethnic and sectarian violence in the country.
A local official reported eight people were killed after Tuesday's attacks on the villages of Bombo and Tanga. At least 20 people were killed Saturday in the central region of Bambari, in clashes between anti-balaka fighters and the Fulani — a mostly Muslim, nomadic people largely living in Central and West Africa who are also referred to as Peuhl. Attacks on Sunday in the southwestern area of Gamboula and Nola left 18 people dead.
Jean-Marie Fardeau, director of Human Rights Watch in France, told VICE News that the Fulani people have faced persecution throughout the CAR since the anti-balaka rose up in 2013.
In March of that year, the mainly Muslim Séléka rebels marched on Bangui and soon replaced President Francois Bozize with their own leader, Michel Djotodia, plunging the country into chaos. Relentless violence by the Séléka against the majority Christian population prompted the formation of Christian vigilante militias, called the anti-balaka. Brutal anti-balaka attacks forced tens of thousands of Muslims out of the country, which has been wracked by violence ever since.
While some Fulani have chosen to join the ranks of their Muslim 200,000-strong brothers, a majority have fled to neighboring countries like Cameroon.
Today, the Fulani who remain in the country live mostly in the central region of Bambari, and in the southwest area of the CAR. In the center of the CAR, close to 1,000 armed former-Seleka Fulani fighters banded together under the leadership of General Ali Ndarassa, forming the Unit for Central Africa (UPC).
In the southwest, close to 10,000 Fulani are living in makeshift camps on the border with Cameroon, under the protection troops from three international peacekeeping missions in the region: France's Operation Sangaris, the European Union's Eufor-RCA, and the UN's mission in CAR (MINUSCA).
France launched operation Sangaris in December 2013 to restore law and order in the country after fighting broke out between Seleka rebels and anti-balaka militias. Eufor-RCA, the European Union's military operation in the country, rolled out in early 2014 to secure the area around Bangui, the capital of CAR. The UN launched MINUSCA in April 2014 to protect civilians and support the delivery of humanitarian aid.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that the relocation of the Fulani, who are increasingly at risk of attack by surrounding anti-balaka vigilantes, is a matter of emergency. According to UNHCR, "474 Muslims from the Fulani minority have been trapped for months […] Forty-two have died since they arrived last April, and those who remain are becoming weaker by the day. Despite the presence of international forces, the Yaloke group continues to be subject to recurring threats [of violence]."
Former Seleka militants and anti-balaka fighters had been set to meet on Saturday in Bambari at the former Seleka military headquarters. But the MINUSCA-backed conference descended into violence when anti-balaka launched an assault on the former Seleka and Fulani, killing twenty. The Fulani retaliated on Saturday night, executing 20 Christians in Gamboula and Nola.
In a report published on Monday, Human Rights Watch denounced the abysmal living conditions of Fulani refugees trapped in the enclaves of Yaloké, Carnot et Boda, and pressed for evacuation. Meanwhile, the Central African Republic's interim government has opposed extraditions, for fear of being seen to condone ethnic cleansing in the region.
Fardeau explained that, "Military convoys for Fulani refugees are no longer endorsed by the government, which doesn't want to be seen as encouraging ethnic cleansing in the southwest part of the country." As a result, Fulani refugees are forced to wait out the violence in improvised camps, fearing for their lives.
"Each side —anti-balaka, on the one hand, and Fulani and former Seleka on the other— want to be in a position of strength come National Dialog day," Fardeau said. National Dialog is a government-backed initiative to foster national reconciliation, which was piloted at the Brazzaville peace forum, in Congo, in July 2014. While the peace talks had led to a tentative ceasefire, an agreed campaign for the disarmament of the militias has remained at a standstill.
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