The violence in the Central African Republic has fallen off the radar of the mainstream media, but that doesn’t mean the brutal killings have stopped. Over the last several days, sectarian violence between Muslim Seleka fighters and the anti-balaka militia who harbor hatred toward Muslims has left at least 12 civilians dead in and around Bambari, a main town in Ouaka province in the center of the country. It’s the latest example of ongoing and deadly tit-for-tat revenge killings.
This latest incident started in the same way as so many others have. A young Muslim motorcycle taxi driver was reportedly ambushed by the anti-balaka some 20 kilometers outside Bambari and killed. In revenge, according to those in Bambari I spoke to by telephone yesterday, Muslims, some of whom were reported to be Seleka fighters, targeted and killed Christians and others who they accused of supporting the anti-balaka.
During three research missions to Ouaka province this year, I have documented hundreds of similar tit-for-tat deaths. In one incident in November 2014, the anti-balaka killed 28 people in the small village of Ngbima, near Kouango, in the southern part of the country. The victims were both Muslim Peuhl cattle herders and non-Muslims whom the anti-balaka accused of not supporting them. Most were killed as they slept. The next month, Seleka fighters took revenge, killing seven people in Ngbada village, also near Kouango. Those who survived fled into the bush where another 20 – mostly children – later died from malaria and diarrhea, according to relatives who I later spoke to.
The approaching national elections planned for October 2015 are leading to infighting and splintering within both Seleka and anti-balaka armed groups, adding further complexity to the violence. But one thing hasn’t changed: it’s civilians who pay the price of the deadly violence.
United Nations peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, including those in Bambari, need to do more to avert small incidents from escalating. More importantly, armed actors need to stop resorting to sectarian violence as the answer to their grievances.