Crossing the Oubangi into the DRC has become the difference between life and death for refugees fleeing the CAR.
Hundreds of Muslims are “trapped” and living in “deplorable conditions” in enclaves in western parts of the Central African Republic, Human Rights Watch has said.
The international rights organisation said in a damning report released on Monday, that displaced Muslim residents, forced to escape the conflict in other parts of CAR over the past 12 months, were now trapped in camps in the western half of the country, living in abysmal conditions and under constant duress.
“Those trapped in some of the enclaves face a grim choice: leave and face possible attack from anti-balaka fighters, or stay and die from hunger and disease,” Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the report.
“While there are good reasons to ensure that the country’s Muslim population does not diminish further, under the current circumstances, the government’s policy of no evacuations is absolutely indefensible.”
HRW said that both the interim government and the United Nations peacekeepers were failing to provide adequate security but were also blocking the displaced from fleeing abroad.
— PIERRE BAIRIN (@PIERREbairin) December 22, 2014
Muslim civilians were forced to flee after brutal attacks by Christian anti-balaka militia in late 2013 and early 2014.
Those who were not able to reach Cameroon or Chad became trapped in the enclaves, where they have spent months living in difficult conditions. Others made the journey across the Oubangi River into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
UN officials together with African Union (AU) MISCA and French Sangaris peacekeepers supported evacuations in late 2013 and early 2014.
In April, UN humanitarian agencies finally managed to evacuate besieged Muslims from the PK12 district in the capital Bangui. The country’s transitional government said the evacuation had not been approved and opposed any further evacuations without their consent.
HRW’s report comes as fresh clashes erupted in the country.
At least 20 people were killed and dozens injured in a series of clashes between armed groups, authorities said on Monday.
An official who spoke to AFP news agency on Monday on condition of anonymity said the violence broke out on Friday.
He said that anti-balaka fighters launched an attack against former fighters of the largely Muslim Seleka alliance in the central region of Bambari.
At least 12 people were killed in that attack,” the official said. He said ex-Seleka rebels and armed Peul herders – also known as the Fulani – launched a reprisal attack on Saturday on the village of Kouango, 90km south, killing at least eight people, injuring dozens and setting several homes on fire.
Last week 28 people were killed in clashes in Mbres, just days after a reconciliation ceremony organised by the UN peacekeeping mission there.
The former French colony has suffered numerous coups and bouts of instability since independence in 1960, but the March 2013 toppling of Francois Bozize’s regime by the Seleka rebel coalition triggered the worst upheaval to date.
Relentless attacks by the Muslim-led rebels on the majority Christian population spurred the formation of vigilante groups, who in turn began exacting revenge on Muslim civilians, driving them out of most parts of the country.
Several thousand people were killed in the tit-for-tat attacks, which plunged the population of 4.8 million into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.