African peacekeepers have escorted more than 1,000 minority Muslims fleeing attacks by mainly Christian militias in the Central African Republic to neighbouring Chad, police said.
“Not a single Muslim remains in Bossangoa,” a police source quoted by the AFP news agency said, referring to a northwestern town.
The sources added that the Muslims left for Chad on Thursday.
The refugees had gathered at a Quranic school and the Catholic Church’s premises in Bossangoa, fearing for their lives if they stayed on in the town, said the police source.
Large-scale violence between Christians and Muslims had been raging in Bossangoa and nearby Bouca since last September, part of nationwide unrest sparked by a March 2013 coup.
Thousands have been killed and around a quarter of the country’s 4.6 million people displaced, most of them Muslims, who make up around one-fifth of the overall population.
Muslims who lived peacefully alongside Christians for decades have abandoned entire regions since the conflict took on unprecedented ethnic and religious dimensions.
At least 150 people have lost their lives in the fighting in the Bossangoa region alone pitting former rebels of the Seleka movement that held power for 10 months against mainly Christian “anti-balaka” militias.
Weapon of choice
Seleka leader Michel Djotodia was forced to resign in January after failing to rein in his fighters, many of whom turned rogue and launched vicious attacks against non-Muslims.
Anti-balaka means “anti-machete” in the local Sango language, and refers to the weapon of choice wielded by the Seleka – but also taken up by the vigilantes.
Some 8,000 foreign troops – 2,000 from former colonial power France and most of the rest from the African MISCA force – are trying to disarm rival militias after a year of sectarian violence.
The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously adopted a resolution that would pave the way for nearly 12,000 peacekeepers to be sent to the violence-torn country. The force, to take over from French and AU missions in September, will include 10,000 military personnel and 1,800 police.
The ethno-religious conflict has led to international warnings of a potential genocide, but it is unprecedented in a nation that has endured decades of coups, army mutinies and general strikes.