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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Messages of ‘Relentless, Spiraling Bloodshed’ from the Central African Republic

The emergency director for Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert, has documented some of his most vivid warnings yet on the killing in the Central African Republic, describing a country in the “relentless, spiraling bloodshed” of sectarian retaliation on the civilians left behind as rebels withdraw.

On his Twitter account @bouckap, Mr. Bouckaert â€" whose job is to focus on protecting civilians caught in armed conflict â€" has reported extensively and firsthand on the country. On Wednesday, he shared an image of a mob attack and described other scenes of horrific attacks on both Muslim and Christian communities. But some of the worst recent retaliatory attacks have been carried out by anti-Muslim militias.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that thousands of jubilant residents took to the streets of Bangui, the capital, to celebrate after peacekeepers escorted dozens of mostly Muslim rebels from military bases. As my colleague Somini Sengupta reported, United Nations officials have also described a spiraling conflict, with the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels disarmed and rival Christian gunmen going on retaliatory rampages.

In an interview with BBC Africa, Mr. Bouckaert said there were sectarian killings throughout the country. Christian populations have suffered “tremendous abuses” under Seleka in the last 10 months, but those militias are now withdrawing. Now, Muslim communities are being “wiped off the map” as the rebels leave, with children being “slaughtered in front of their Muslim parents with machetes all over the place,” he said. “It really is an orgy of bloodshed.”

listen to ‘CAR eyewitness: Horrific mob attack on Muslim men’ on Audioboo

In the BBC interview, he described a mob mutilating the bodies of Muslim men as heavily armed French soldiers nearby did nothing to intervene. Excerpts:

It was an absolutely horrific scene when we arrived at the entrance to the airport in Bangui. We found a large mob of people and French soldiers at the scene. The crowd was mutilating two bodies of Muslim men that they had just killed with machete. The French soldiers were there just 50 meters away and didn’t stop this horrific mutilation from taking place. They cut one man’s genitals off and put them in his mouth. It really was a scene of absolute horror.

The people who were mutilating the body probably were about a dozen men with machetes and knives. They were probably members of the anti-balaka Christian militia. But large crowds of people had gathered including children. People were filming this on their cellphones and many were laughing. As we left the scene they said keep on filming because we are not yet done.

There is no more safe part of the city for Muslims. We see them being killed everywhere in Bangui, and Christians as well.

In a report published on Tuesday, Mr. Bouckaert wrote:

The death records of the Bangui morgue read like a chapter from Dante’s Inferno, page after page of people tortured, lynched, shot, or burned to death. The smell of rotting corpses is overwhelming, as when people die in such numbers, it is impossible to bury them immediately. On really bad days, the recording of the dead just stops: no names are recorded, just the numbers of dead. In the 15 minutes we managed to remain amid the stench and horror, two more bodies arrived: A Muslim hacked to death with machetes, and a Christian shot dead by the Seleka.

Jerome Delay of The A.P. has also been thoroughly documenting the story.

Laura Jepson of International Medical Corps shared this image from her colleagues:

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.