Central African Republic’s Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who was appointed to her post just last month, has said that nominally Christian militias, referred to collectively as anti-balaka, “have lost their sense of mission.” She suggest that as the country’s first female President the militias saw her as weak, before promising that they would be “hunted.” The anti-balaka militias have been responsible for brutal acts of violence in the country’s capital, Bangui, in recent weeks against the city’s nominally Muslim population.
The anti-balaka militia came into being as local self-protection organizations to protect Christian communities against violence and criminality perpetrated by former members of the Seleka rebel organization. Militia groups say they are merely exacting revenge for these crimes.
The Seleka rebels ousted the country’s leadership last March, and their leader, Michel Djotodia, was subsequently appointed as the country’s interim president. Djotodia officially disbanded the group, but could not demobilize them. Before resigning last month and fleeing into exile, Djotodia also sought to justify the violence committed by former Seleka rebels by suggesting it was a natural expression of revenge against the former regime.
Former Seleka fighters and anti-balaka militiamen have both been accused of serious crimes. Last week there were reports of at least three daylight lynchings in Bangui, including at least one where uniformed members of the military were said to have been complicit. Today, African Union peacekeepers reportedly uncovered a mass grave at a military camp occupied by former Seleka rebels.
Limited access and security concerns have prevented international organizations from independently verifying many crimes and establishing accurate estimates of how many of have been killed since fighting exploded last year. Hundreds of thousands, however, have been driven from their homes. Amnesty International has described the current campaign by anti-balaka militias as “ethnic cleansing.” Some UN officials say they share this fear. UN Secretary General warned that the country could end up experiencing a de facto partition as a result the inter-communal violence. CAR authorities deny that this is the case, saying that it is merely a “security problem.” Peacekeepers have also so far been unable to help quell the violence.
The UN’s World Food Program did begin airlifting food aid into the country today, in an attempt to stave off a humanitarian disaster. Food insecurity is a major threat, and many of the individuals driven from the capital in the recent violence are said to have been merchants involved in the sale and distribution of foodstuffs. The UN estimates that over a million people could be in need of humanitarian assistance.