By Gabe Joselow
Bouca, Central African Republic — Recent inter-religious fighting in the Central African Republic has raised tensions between communities and has threatened the rebel-led government. The town of Bouca, which was left in ruins following an attack targeting Muslims a week ago.
The fighting started at 5 a.m., at the time of morning prayers. Those who survived say the killers came from within their own community.
Entire families were murdered, at least 40 people total. Hundreds of homes were burned in just a few hours.
Resident Mandera Liman said he ran to get a gun to defend his family, but was too late. “I heard them yelling ‘Kill him, kill the Muslim.’ They came, they took my father and they killed him here,” he said.
Bozize link alleged
The attacks were blamed on militia loyal to former president Francois Bozize, ousted in March by the Muslim Seleka rebel movement. Last month, Seleka installed the country’s first Muslim president to lead a political transition.
People here say Muslims and Christians had lived in peace together until the most recent fighting.
Seleka authorities believe the anti-Muslim violence is an orchestrated attempt by followers of the former president to try to create divisions and weaken the transitional government.
Seleka soldiers re-took control of Bouca in the days that followed the attack.
They say the types of weapons they seized prove the assailants were former army and presidential guard.
Seleka Colonel Djibrine Dagacher blames the community in Bouca for harboring the attackers. “On Sunday night, the rebels came into the town and slept in people’s homes. So the population that is here is complicit with the rebels,” he said.
Some of those displaced by the fighting say reprisal attacks against Christians already have begun.
The rising tension forced the medical aid organization MSF [Doctors Without Borders] to suspend its emergency operations in Bouca on Sunday.
Head of Mission for MSF-Spain, Sylvain Groulx said, “We have a feeling that right now the authorities in place cannot ensure the security of our patients or our staff, and we’ve had to pull out our teams today.”
The atrocities committed in Bouca are part of a larger trend across the Central African Republic.
Many worry that if sectarian violence escalates, it will drag the country further into chaos.