The new wave of violence which has left dozens of civilians dead and at least 100 injured highlights the fragility of the reconciliation process and the urgent need for enhanced protection of civilians, disarmament and an end to impunity in Central African Republic, Amnesty International said Monday.
Clashes erupted over the weekend in the capital Bangui and have continued today.
“The deadly violence in the capital illustrates that CAR remains in a very fragile state and that immediate action must be taken to enhance the capacity of UN peacekeepers to detect and respond effectively to such incidents before escalation of attacks on civilians,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International regional director for West and Central Africa.
“Small arms have been used by all sides to the conflict to attack civilians. The disarmament of all civilians and armed groups therefore needs to be speeded up to prevent all sides to the conflict using these weapons to commit further crimes under international law, including war crimes.”
Fighting has reportedly continued throughout last night and today in some neighbourhoods in Bangui. Some populations have started to flee combat zones while offices of at least three NGOs were looted.
Last May, 10 rival armed groups signed a deal with the transitional authorities to lay down their arms and enter in a process of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation. Elections are scheduled in CAR on 18 October.
Amnesty International has called on combatants to end attacks on civilians and for those suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity to be brought before the courts.
“The pattern of impunity that has existed in CAR must be broken,” said Alioune Tine.
Tension and fear on Monday gripped Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic (CAR), with the city’s main streets closed by barricades after a spate of violence, looting and the death of three protesters.
A witness and a hospital source, who both asked not to be named, said violence broke out after UN peacekeepers opened fire as several hundred protesters headed for the presidency.
The UN’s peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, denied the account but said it would seek to “verify” the accusations.
The demonstrators were demanding the resignation of interim leader Catherine Samba Panza after the deaths of at least 20 people in Bangui at the weekend. Western diplomats said Samba Panza had left a meeting of the UN General Assembly on Monday because of the trouble brewing at home. Three people were killed and seven injured by the UN peacekeepers, the hospital source told AFP, adding that a teenager was also killed by a stray bullet when shooting broke out elsewhere in the city after the protest was broken up.
“MINUSCA peacekeeping officers deny (reports) that they opened fire on the population,” the mission said in a statement sent to AFP. “That said, MINUSCA remains concerned by such allegations and will proceed to verifying them,” it added.
With barricades raised across the city on Monday, French and UN peacekeepers were on watch at key points after weekend trouble triggered by the killing of a motorcycle-taxi driver.
Few vehicles ventured out onto the roads and most shops remained shuttered throughout the day on fears of an escalation of the Muslim-Christian violence that has ridden the country.
“The (military) gendarmerie, the defence ministry and state radio all came under attack during the night by armed individuals,” said a Central African army source, who asked to remain anonymous. “The attacks were repulsed, causing some fatalities among the assailants,” added the source, without providing further details.
Bangui’s latest round of violence broke out on Saturday after claims that a motorcycle-taxi driver was murdered in central Bangui’s Muslim-majority PK-5 neighbourhood.
More than 20 people were killed and around 100 injured when violence spread to other districts, medical sources said, and on Sunday protesters threw up barricades in several parts of the city.
PK-5 neighbourhood was the epicentre of unprecedented killings between Christians and Muslims in Bangui in late 2013 and early last year. It remains the last bastion for Muslims hounded from other districts by Christian “anti-balaka” militias.
The trouble in the already restive, impoverished nation led Prime Minister Mahamat Kamoun to slap a curfew on the capital.
On Monday evening, prisoners held in Ngaragba jail — most of them anti-balaka fighters — escaped, a military source said.
Central African Republic descended into bloodshed more than two years ago after a coup ousted longtime leader Francois Bozize, triggering the worst crisis since independence in 1960.
The country has since remained prey to violence between the mostly Muslim Seleka fighters and Christian militias known as the “anti-balaka”, or anti-machete.
Though the level of violence has fallen significantly since last year, the country still has high crime rates fuelled in part by easy access to weapons left over from the sectarian conflict.
French soldiers and UN peacekeepers remain in the former French colony, where thousands of people died in the violence and hundreds of thousands remain displaced from their homes.
A spokesman for the European Union’s foreign service appealed on Monday night for an end to attacks on civilians.
“Attacks on the civilian populations and the targeting of humanitarian workers whose aim is to deliver lifesaving aid must stop immediately,” the statement said.
“The overwhelming majority of citizens of the country deserve and demand an end to conflict and division between communities for the country’s prospects for peace and recovery,” it added.
Presidential and legislative elections are due to be held by the end of the year, but they have already been pushed back several times as the country continues to grapple with the crisis.
“In a country where all sides have used small arms to perpetrate crimes under international law, disarmament is a vital part of efforts to end crimes under international law. Disarmament must be sustained and supported alongside efforts to ensure that there is justice for crimes under international law.”