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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reports From the Central African Republic’s ‘Darkest Days’

The civilian toll of the violence raging in the Central African Republic was highlighted on Thursday with multiple reports of hospitals overwhelmed by the wounded and people trying to flee to safety. The latest bout of fighting flared just before the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize African Union and French military forces to deploy to protect civilians.

Even in a country synonymous with disorder, the current situation stands out. As Jerome Delay, The Associated Press’s chief photographer in Africa â€" who has worked in conflict zones for decades â€" wrote on twitter:

MSF refers to Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders. A team of medical personnel from the organization who returned recently to the United States said in a webcast this week that the harm to civilians in the Central African Republic had become the worst they have seen in about a decade. Asked whether these were “darker days than they have even known” for civilians there, a nurse, Michelle Mays, said:

“I would say that this is worse. I think people definitely talk about it, they are really scared, and they talk about it comparing it to previous insecurity and instability. Prior to this current conflict there hadn’t been so much sectarian violence, where you see different groups being pitted against each other and atrocities being committed on all sides. There was some of that before but not to the extent that we see now.”

A doctor, Yolaine Civil, said there was also an increase in localized violence, meaning her team was handling an increase in violence-related injuries and wound care.

From Bangui, Tristan Redman, a producer for Al Jazeera English, posted a series of images on his Twitter account @tristanaje.

My colleague Adam Nossiter reported gunfire in the capital Bangui. He wrote that the fighting was a sign of the heightened instability in the country since Seleka rebels seized power in March and the president was replaced.

Seleka, a mostly Muslim grouping in a largely Christian country, has exerted little authority over its own forces, which have subjected the population to well-documented killings, arbitrary arrests and kidnappings. Militias have sprung up to oppose the group.

Also from Bangui, Alex Thomson, the chief presenter for Channel 4 news, the United Kingdom’s public service broadcaster, reported on inadequate hospitals struggling to take care of the injured and of the scene in the capital.

Peter Bouckaert, who has written extensively about the Central African Republic as the emergency coordinator for Human Rights Watch, reported on fighting in Bossangoa, a city north of the capital. He shared a stream of updates on the fighting from the base of FOMUC, the acronym for a multinational force there.

In an article last month in Foreign Policy magazine that was posted on the rights group’s website, Mr. Bouckaert warned that if nothing was done in the Central African Republic, the country “could descend into a deep, inter-communal religious conflict â€" with much greater bloodshed than even what we’ve seen thus far.”