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Central African Republic's Muslim population flees nation over religious-fueled violence

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 11th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Amid the roiling chaos in the African nation, the central African Republic, religious violence between the Christian majority and Muslims has reached a fever pitch. Since the nation was torn apart by a coup last year, thousands have died. One official says that the country's Muslim population is fleeing to neighboring nations, already putting a strain on heavily taxed resources.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Human Rights Watch emergency director Peter Bouckaert said this could affect the nation's highly fragile  economy, as Muslims control the livestock market and other businesses in the Central African republic. At least ten people died this weekend in the capital city, according to Bouckaert. He had personally witnessed a Muslim being hacked to death in Bangui.

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Tens of thousands of Muslims have already fled the to neighboring nations of Cameroon and Chad. One of African continent's poorest nations, the CAR has been in chaos for more than a year since Muslim Seleka rebels seized power.

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While the coup leader Michel Djotodia resigned as interim president last month as part of a regional peace process, violence, either perpetrated by either Christian anti-Balaka militias or Seleka members, has continued. Peacekeepers from the African Union and the nation's former colonial power, France has failed to quell the instances of violence.

"It's just a matter of days or weeks before the last pockets of Muslims in this country leave for Chad, fleeing this wave of violence," c told the BBC World Service.

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Christians comprise 50 percent of the Central African Republic's population. The Muslim minority only comprises 15 percent, and those who follow indigenous beliefs make up the remaining 35 percent.

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"There are literally entire neighborhoods which are completely emptied of their Muslim population. Their homes are being systematically taken down - roofs, doors, windows, everything is just being taken down. So the very evidence of their existence in this country is being erased," Bouckaert added.

Bouckaert then recounted over the past weekend how he had woken up to the sound of loud explosions coming from a Muslim area of Bangui and went with his team to investigate.

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"We came upon a body of a Muslim man being burned in the street," he said. "The local people told us that overnight six civilians were killed by armed Muslim men in this area and they captured one of them and lynched him in the street and then burned his body. As we were there, they caught a second Muslim man and hacked him to death."

Muslim neighborhoods were being abandoned, Bouckaert said. "The violence is now coming mostly from the anti-Balaka militias who are systematically attacking Muslim neighborhoods but the Seleka fighters are still around."

The Human rights Watch official said Rwandan troops had told him the situation in the CAR had brought "back horrible memories" of the genocide in their own country two decades ago.

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says she has opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes in the CAR.,Bensouda says she has received reports of "extreme brutality by various groups."

Amid the chaos, however, there are stories of people helping neighbors of a different religion. Bouckaert said in a Tweet that "Christian neighbors helping Muslim neighbors flee from Kolongo neighborhood as looters from other areas flood in."

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