Peacekeepers go door-to-door to disarm CAR militia

2014-02-15 23:01
People walk on a road lit by AU-led Misca vehicles during an operation in the CARs’ capital, Bangui. (Fred Dufour , AFP)

People walk on a road lit by AU-led Misca vehicles during an operation in the CARs’ capital, Bangui. (Fred Dufour , AFP)

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Bangui - International peacekeepers went door-to-door in the Central African Republic capital Bangui on Saturday seizing weapons from militia accused of committing atrocities against the country's Muslim minority.

The unprecedented operation by about 250 peacekeepers and police in Bangui's Boy Rabe neighbourhood, the base of the mostly Christian militias whose attacks have driven many Muslims from the city in recent weeks, lasted about four hours.

Automatic weapons, grenades and a large amount of munitions were seized and "more than a dozen" people were detained, according to Ghislain Gresenguet, the attorney general.

"All people who were found to have weapons in their homes have been identified and will be handed over to the police," a peacekeeper from the African Union Misca mission told AFP.

The so-called "anti-balaka" militias were formed in the majority Christian country in response to killing and pillaging by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels after they toppled president Francois Bozize in a March 2013 coup.

Anti-balaka means "anti-machete" in the local Sango language and refers to the weapon of choice wielded by the Seleka.

In recent months, as international peacekeepers deployed to the former French colony have disarmed the Seleka, brutal attacks by the militias have sowed terror among the Muslim population.

Interim president Catherine Sampa Panza, herself a Christian, last Wednesday declared "war" against the anti-balaka, whose attacks have sparked warnings of "ethnic cleansing".

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday that ending the sectarian strife could take longer than expected.

"I think it will be longer than planned because the degree of hatred and violence is worse than we imagined," Le Drian told French radio.

The landlocked country has been prone to coups, rebellions and mutinies for decades, but the explosion in inter-religious violence is unprecedented.

France and the European Union pledged a sharp increase in the number of troops deployed in the Central African Republic on Friday, as concern mounted over a horrific spiral of violence across the country.

France's force will eventually total about 2 000.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday that Berlin wanted to bolster its military cooperation with France, particularly in Africa.

"More convergence is possible", notably in terms of working together in Mali or the Central African Republic, the chancellor added.

'Big fish' got away

Among those detained Saturday was lieutenant Herve Ganazoui, "in charge of 'anti-balaka leadership' operations", Emotion Brice Namsi, a militia spokesperson, told AFP.

But the soldiers failed to capture a senior militia leader, Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, who casts himself as the anti-balaka political co-ordinator.

Fifteen minutes after surrounding his house, grenade explosions and gunfire could be heard, and a military source said that African peacekeepers had fired into the air in response to "aggression" by those inside - who did not include Ngaissona.

He said later: "They didn't manage to take me, I was out."

Grezenguet said Ngaissona was "the big fish who had to be detained".

Peacekeepers left the neighbourhood to jeers from residents.

Also on Saturday, the opposition Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People repeated an allegation that former president Bozize was supporting the anti-balaka "financially and materially".

Amnesty International this week warned that violence in the Central African Republic has grown into an "ethnic cleansing" campaign, while the UN refugee agency has described the situation as "a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions".

Read more on:    central african republic  |  central africa

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