Central African Republic: renewed bloodshed must be stopped - new witness testimony
At least 20 civilians killed in violence that targeted places of worship yesterday
Two burnt to death in reprisal attacks
New eyewitness accounts: ‘There were dead bodies everywhere’
Those responsible for the killing and injuring of civilians in Central African Republic (CAR) must not be allowed to hide from justice, Amnesty International said today.
According to reports, at least 20 civilians - including a priest - were killed and more than 90 injured following fresh sectarian violence which targeted places of worship yesterday (1 May) in the capital Bangui.
According to information collected by Amnesty, the violence erupted after security forces attempted to arrest a member of an armed ‘self-defence’ group in the majority Muslim neighborhood of PK5, which since yesterday has been shut down.
Members of the armed ‘self-defence’ group opened fire on security forces in an attempt to prevent the arrest. The situation escalated quickly and members of the group targeted civilians during a mass at the Notre-Dame de Fatima church in Bangui.
According to reports, at least two Muslims civilians were burnt to death in reprisal attacks on the same day.
A 46-year-old woman who was in the church yesterday told Amnesty:
“We were in the middle of the mass around 11am when we heard gunshots. At first, it was weak, and little by little it got worse. There were even sounds of grenades. We were attacked. Just in front of me, a boy and a girl fell dead. A girl behind me had her right eye injured. We fled to the Presbytery of the Abbes. There were dead bodies everywhere… There were many people injured and bleeding on the ground. Boys from the neighborhood pierced the wall behind the church and we escaped from there. We saw many young boys coming from PK5 with weapons... We ran into the neighborhood and we took the bike to go home.”
Another witness said:
“…We heard gunshots. We were helpless. There were some [Central African Armed Forces] FACA who prevented the attackers from entering the parish. If they had entered, we would all be dead.
“Abbot Toungoumalé Baba was killed. Abbot Lazare was shot and wounded. The priests did their best calling for help but none came. There was no escape route. UN peacekeepers came two hours later, surrounded the parish, and we were able to escape. The good people in the neighbourhood made a hole in the wall. This is where we escaped from. There was blood everywhere. It was serious. People say 16 people died but I believe there are more than 16 dead. I saw so many people on the ground when we were fleeing.”
A PK5 inhabitant told Amnesty: “Everyone stays at home. If you go out, to the other side, you will be killed.”
Another woman leader from PK5 added: ‘All this is so sad. It’s been like three weeks now that peace returned. We leaders have been raising awareness. Now we are discouraged.”
There has been an increase in violence in CAR in the last month with attacks on the village of Tagbara, which hosts a United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) temporary base. On 3 April, 11 UN peacekeepers were wounded and more than 22 anti-Balaka armed group members were killed.
Balkissa Ide Siddo, Amnesty International’s Central Africa researcher, said:
“In a country where the images from months of horrific violence are still fresh in the memories of people, these renewed tensions could stoke more attacks and bloodshed if those responsible are not stopped once for all.
“The Central African authorities and UN forces must send an immediate and clear message to all armed groups and their allies in CAR that no attack against civilians will be tolerated, and all those suspected of committing war crimes and other serious human rights violations and abuses will be brought to justice.
“The international community should remain committed, as new names are added to the already long list of victims of violence in the country.”
Since December 2013, the conflict in CAR has killed thousands of people, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and destroyed countless villages.
The deployment of the MINUSCA on 15 September 2014, raised hopes for positive change. Yet despite the presence of UN forces, armed groups are carrying out a range of abuses. Reports of sexual exploitation and abuses by UN peacekeeping troops have also been reported.
Amnesty last year launched the campaign Justice Now! Towards lasting peace in CAR calling on the authorities to commit to a tougher stance against impunity by holding those responsible for serious crimes to account.