Muslims Leave Central African Republic Capital Under Escort

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Peacekeeping troops escorted about 1,300 Muslims out of Bangui on Sunday, setting off looting and removing one of the last pockets of Muslims from the capital of a nation torn apart by religious violence.

That strife also flared in an attack that killed at least 22 people about 280 miles north of Bangui on Saturday, including 15 local chiefs and three local staff members of the charity Médecins Sans Frontières.

Gilles Xavier Nguembassa, a former member of Parliament for the area, said most died in Nanga Boguila when mainly Muslim rebels went to the group’s clinic in search of money while local chiefs were meeting there.

In Bangui, peacekeepers stood by as Christians, some armed with machetes and bows and arrows, swarmed into and picked apart houses in the PK12 neighborhood, which had been a Muslim stronghold in the majority-Christian south. “We are leaving to save our lives,” said Mohamed Ali Mohamed, who was born and brought up in the area.

Some of the departing Muslims burned their cars, as they could not take them in the convoy but did not want Christians to be able to use them once they had left.

Mainly Muslim rebels seized Bangui last year after complaining of marginalization by President François Bozizé’s government. Their time in power was marked by abuses and killings that led to the creation of Christian self-defense militias.

Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader who took over as president after Mr. Bozizé’s ouster, resigned in January under international pressure as violence spiraled out of control. The interim authorities, backed by French and African peacekeepers, are still struggling to restore order.

“For many years we lived together, but they were the ones who brought the weapons here to kill us,” said Dieudonne Bignilaba, a Christian resident of Bangui.

Last week the Central African Republic’s minister for reconciliation criticized the evacuations, warning that they would play into the hands of Muslim rebels who want to create an independent state in the north.

Source: NYT

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