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Little hope for C.Africa Muslims ahead of French president visit
by Staff Writers
Bangui, Central African Republic (AFP) Feb 27, 2014

A mob tries to attack a large convoy of lorries and taxis packed with Muslims fleeing Christian vigilantes and heading north from Bangui on February 7, 2014. Muslim Central Africans and foreigners have been fleeing Bangui for several months to escape killings, looting and harassment by armed militias drawn from the Christian majority in the city. Photo courtesy AFP.

Reeling from savage attacks, Central African Republic's Muslim minority have little faith that Friday's visit by President Francois Hollande will change their fortunes, while the French military has warned that the country cannot only rely on foreign help.

Muslims holed up in the capital's PK-5 district -- where they have come under repeated attacks from mainly Christian anti-balaka militias -- are blunt about Hollande's visit.

"What is he going to do? The anti-balakas are 200 metres from here, killing our children and destroying our houses. Where are the [French] troops?" said one veiled woman in PK-5 on Thursday.

Hollande arrives Friday for his second visit to the restive country in less than three months. He will address French troops and meet with interim President Catherine Samba Panza who has called on France to make full use of its UN mandate to bring the sectarian violence under control.

French troops -- sent to the former colony on December 5 -- were patrolling the capital with armoured vehicles in Bangui on Thursday, as helicopters flew overhead.

On an access road to the centrally located PK-5, 30 French soldiers looked on as Central African police searched cars.

But the commander of the French troops, General Francisco Soriano warned that the country cannot "rely on the international community for everything".

"Central Africans need to participate in the reconstruction of their own country," he said, while admitting that local security forces were not being paid.

"We already do a lot. Now, we want an internal security operation where we need to involve the Central African security forces more fully."

- 'Chopped to pieces' -

That will come as cold comfort for the residents of PK-5, in shock from repeated attacks by the anti-balaka.

On Tuesday and Wednesday most of the 11 corpses collected around Bangui were from the PK-5 neighbourhood, where Christians and Muslims had previously lived peacefully together.

"Many were chopped to pieces," said a Central African Red Cross official in charge of collecting the bodies.

Until the last few days, the area had escaped the worst of the sectarian violence that has decimated other parts of the capital.

"PK-5 is the last neighbourhood we still call our own but for the last three days things have gotten worse," said a man who would not give his name.

"Muslims are cut up, our houses are destroyed and looted. We do not understand what the French have been doing since they got here," he added.

"France could make Bangui safe within 48 hours if they wanted to but they just let things slip and don't care about the attacks and the looting," said Miradje Asfarany, a 45-year-old economist.

- Pledges delayed -

Under UN resolution 2127, adopted in December, international forces are to restore public order and security in the former French colony.

French troops were sent to reinforce the 6,000-strong MISCA force made up of African troops.

The European Union has pledged to deploy 800-1,000 troops but negotiations on which countries will provide them are still dragging on in Brussels.

On Thursday morning a convoy of 50 French armoured vehicles and transporters arrived in the troubled capital from neighbouring Chad reinforcing the French troops in the country which now number 2,000.

To the north of PK-5, in the mixed PK-12 district, a handful of Muslims live the life of recluses, surrounded by hostile militias.

On Wednesday, former rebel Seleka militiamen broke out from a nearby camp where they are supposed to be garrisoned, lobbing a hand grenade at civilians. The device exploded but caused no injuries.

In a revenge attack a group of furious Christians pounced on one of the attackers and cut him up, showing off a foot like a trophy.

French troops foiled another murder by Seleka militiamen at the last minute on Thursday after a Christian was stabbed in the back.

"It's difficult for us as everything goes so fast," explained a French soldier posted nearby. "We have rules to respect and they know it. We can't shoot at everything that moves."


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