The killing fields of CAR

2013-11-10 14:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri uncovers a bloody massacre that no one has heard of and hopes to highlight unnoticed human rights abuses

It is rare to uncover an event no one has heard of. But in the Central African Republic (CAR), human rights abuses go unreported because investigating them is too dangerous.

This is my third trip this year to the nation where so many people never get the chance to tell of their plight.

Rebel group Seleka, meaning “Coalition”, helped bring about a coup in March that ousted President François Bozizé. Thirteen South African soldiers were killed in the preceding Battle of Bangui.

Although Seleka was officially disbanded in August, the army and police have no real power in the provinces and the armed men who fought Bozizé remain a force to be reckoned with. Among them are those who kill, rape and recruit child soldiers.

We began at the main hospital in Bouar, in the nation’s western region, where most of the dead and the survivors were only taken on October 27.

Hospital staff carefully documented the names and ages of the 18 dead and 13 injured. The oldest was more than 60 and theyoungest just two weeks.

Despite the danger, the only way to confirm what happened was to get to the site of the shooting. A witness and a local contingent of forces from Gabon agreed to escort us.

We drove a few kilometres in our 4x4s on a tiny dirt track until we reached a rock face. Unable to go any further, we set off on foot.

A few kilometres later, we came across a tiny hut.

Spent casings and bullets from an AK-47 littered the ground. Our security adviser counted the bullet holes and said a magazine of about 25 bullets was shot into a space the size of a large closet. Dried blood covered the ground next to a rotting puppy. A blood-covered bullet was embedded in the wall.

A grave was nearby. Three wooden sticks in the ground suggested three of the victims were buried there. The smell of death was overwhelming. It clung to me for days.

On the morning of October 26, a group of armed vigilantes known as Anti-Balaka, meaning “anti-machete”, attacked Seleka rebels in Bouar.

After a long gun battle, three or four other families fled to the little hut in the bush, the only shelter for kilometres in the heavy rain.

But something kept Clarisse Demokombona up that night. She was the first to realise something wasn’t right.

“I was in the corner by the door when Seleka men shone a torch inside. I quickly grabbed my baby and put her in a straw bag,” she says.

One of the men then started spraying bullets into the hut. Demokombona bravely shouted out: “I have a baby in my hands. Why are you shooting?”

But by the time they heard her cries and stopped, it was too late. They had already killed everyone who slept on the floor. Her baby survived. She herself was shot in the back, but her five-year-old daughter and six-year-old son died from their injuries.

Demokombona’s husband, Maxim Nganabeam, managed to hide behind a rock. He watched helpless as his six-year-old son was killed.

“When they shot my little boy, he fell to the ground. I lay down on the ground too,” he said. “And I heard my wife screaming and crying. I broke down in tears as I was devastated.”

I have interviewed many mothers who have lost their children. Demokombona was still in an initial state of shock, unaccepting of her loss.

Her three surviving children tried their best to get her attention, clinging to their mother. But she was unable to even look at them, let alone give them any reassurance, or love.

After the interview, I bent down next to her and whispered through a translator: “Your children need you now more than ever.”

She replied: “I know, but I don’t have the strength inside me to take care of them. Perhaps God will give me that strength.”

How and why armed men decided to shoot into this hut is unclear. But witnesses say the son of the shack’s owner stole a mattress earlier that day and was taken to a Seleka base.

Possibly, as a way of escaping trouble, he told them Anti-Balaka fighters were hiding there. His name, along with his father and mother, are on the list of the dead at the hospital.

Demokombona and other witnesses say although the men had a torch, they only stopped shooting after she cried out and the surviving children began to cry.

The men left the dead and the injured. It was only the next day that the survivors’ relatives helped get them to the hospital.

I hope what we uncovered will receive international attention and that something is done about this crisis in the heart of Africa.

I have seen it so many times in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Sudan. When I leave for the safety and comfort of my home, I always ask: Have I made a difference? Was it worth the risk? Will those with guns always win in the end?

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Man scores date with tennis superstar after Twitter bet

It’s a modern day Cinderella story, but one American man took ‘shoot your shot’ seriously in 2017.


You won't want to miss...

Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
5 top leg exercises for men
10 best dressed men of 2017
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.