They went to the airport when the massacres began.Residents of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, knew that French soldiers were stationed at Bangui M'Poko International Airport. And so when the latest round of fighting in the city began last week, they fled to the airport, hoping the soldiers would offer them protection.
We landed at M'Poko five days later. The sectarian fighting that has led CAR, one of the poorest countries in the world, to the brink of collapse began last March when Michel Djotodia and his loose rebel alliance (known as the Séléka) stormed Bangui and ousted President François Bozizé. Djotodia appointed himself president and tried to integrate the Séléka into the armed forces, but it didn't work. Even Djotodia admitted that he didn't have control over most of the rebels, many of whom are said to be mercenaries from neighboring Chad and Sudan.
Bands of mostly Muslim Séléka rebels are now terrorizing the majority Christian country, raping and murdering civilians as they roam. Civilians have formed their own "anti-balaka" militias — balaka means machete or sword — to fight back. Meanwhile, many of those who aren't fighting have sought refuge in the only places they consider safe: houses of worship. And the Muslim civilian minority fears reprisals by the anti-balaka forces after nine months of Séléka rule.It's important to note that many people with firsthand knowledge of the war have told us that the religious aspect of the conflict — Muslim rebels vs. Christian civilians — is overblown.
They say this is not an ideological war, but rather a war of identity that goes back generations. Regardless of the root causes, the United Nations and other prominent NGOs speculate that the situation could become far worse.