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We found the old man’s body just off the road. My sharp-eyed driver had spotted it in the shadows. Unsure whether he was alive or dead, we stopped to check. It was an elderly man, perhaps in his late 60s, lying face up with his arms outstretched. He held a walking stick in one hand and two goats, tethered to a line, were standing nearby. Blood was pouring out of the wound in his neck where he had been shot. But there was no pulse.
I checked his pockets and found a small plastic bag containing a Bible and some passport photos. On the first page of the Bible was written a name: Jonas Kayoungu.
It was June, and I was in eastern Central African Republic researching the rise of sectarian violence that was tearing the country apart. I had travelled to the village of Liwa from the nearby town of Bambari which was at the front line of the wave of violence that is moving eastward across the country. We arrived in Liwa to find the village completely destroyed, just as witnesses had told me. All of the 169 homes there had been burned to the ground. Then we heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire – four distinct shots. They were close. We quickly finished our work and got in the jeep to return to Bambari.
That’s when we found Jonas Kayoungu’s body. Our driver was anxious and said we needed to leave immediately; whoever shot this man could be close by. We took the bible and the photos in hopes someone might be able to confirm his identity and inform his family.
Back in Bambari I searched the displacement camps for people from Liwa. An elderly woman thought she recognized the man in the photo. She knew him as Jonas from Batobaga, a village 30 kilometers from Bambari. I gave the bible to the local police, themselves hiding in a displacement camp, in the hopes they might track Jonas’s family and inform them about his death.
I don’t know who shot Jonas. It could be any one of a number of armed militias roaming the area who mercilessly target civilians. What I do know is that justice for these crimes is crucial to help end the conflict. That is why the mediators and participants meeting in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, this week to find ways to end the crisis in the Central African Republic, need to ensure there is no amnesty for those responsible for the heinous crimes. Until there is accountability, there are likely to be many more Jonas Kayoungu’s dying alone in the bush.