Bangui - The Central African Republic's mostly Muslim ex-rebels killed nearly 1 000 people in the capital Bangui two weeks ago in a rampage avenging deadly Christian militia attacks, Amnesty International said in a report on Thursday.
The death toll was significantly higher than earlier estimates by the United Nations, which spoke of 450 killed in Bangui and another 150 elsewhere in the country.
The two-day spasm of violence by fighters from the former Seleka rebel group came after Christian militias known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) went door-to-door in some districts in the capital “and killed approximately 60 Muslim men”, Amnesty said in a statement.
“The de facto government forces, known as ex-Seleka, retaliated on a larger scale against Christians in the wake of the attack, killing nearly 1 000 men over a two-day period and systematically looting civilian homes. A small number of women and children were also killed.”
Its report was based on a two-week fact-finding mission to the Central African Republic, which has been mired in chaos since March, when Seleka took power and ousted the previous government.
The information gathered “has left no room for doubt that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed by all parties to the conflict”, said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty International's Central Africa expert.
France sent 1 600 soldiers to the Central African Republic in the wake of the bloodletting to bolster African troops there and try to restore calm. The UN Security Council gave authorisation for the French-led mission amid fears of a Rwanda-like explosion of communal violence.
Despite the foreign intervention, “civilians are being wilfully killed on a daily basis, with at least 90 additional people killed since 8 December”, Amnesty said.
Another organisation, Human Rights Watch, warned in its own report on Thursday that the French led intervention should be bolstered by other countries.
“The brutal killings in the Central African Republic are creating a cycle of murder and reprisal that threatens to spin out of control,” said Peter Bouckaert, who authored the HRW report.
“The UN Security Council needs to act quickly to bring this evolving catastrophe to a halt.”
The HRW report said that, while the Christian militias had “committed atrocities” against Muslims in the north of the country, the ex-Seleka fighters had exacted their bloodier revenge “with the apparent knowledge of their commanders”.
“Serious abuses are continuing both in the north and in Bangui,” it said.
As an example of the brutality dispensed by the Christian militias, the report cited the case of a Muslim cattle herder who “was forced to watch as anti-balaka fighters cut the throats of her three-year-old son, two boys aged 10 and 14, and an adult relative”.
A Muslim man also described how he watched from a hiding place as militiamen slit the throats of his two wives, his 10 children and a grandchild.
HRW said a “humanitarian crisis” was happening. In Bossangoa, 40 000 displaced Christians were seeking refuge in a church, while 4 000 Muslims were on the other side of the town.
The peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic is “crucial” and needs to be given a more robust mandate, HRW said.
“The potential for further mass violence is shockingly high,” Bouckaert said.