“Militias in the Central African Republic are slitting children’s throats, razing villages and throwing young men to the crocodiles” as malaria and AIDS wreak parallel horrors, The Guardian reported Friday.
Thousands of people are dying at the hands of religious militias and gangs that have entered the CAR from neighboring countries. The U.S. estimates that hundreds of thousands of people are hiding in the jungle without access to malaria or HIV treatment or have fled to neighboring countries.
[The crisis] is nothing new for a country that stands as one of the most profound indictments of European colonialism, a contrivance that since independence in 1960 has endured five coups, infrastructure run on a shoestring and a self-declared emperor whose lavish coronation was inspired by Napoleon. Rich in gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the CAR has proved irresistible to warlords such as Joseph Kony, the leader of a cult-like militia who the government claimed this week is finally negotiating surrender.
The latest eruption began in March when unpopular president François Bozizé fled by helicopter with five suitcases after being overthrown by a loose coalition of rebels, bandits and guns for hire known as the Seleka, meaning “alliance” in the local language. One of its leaders, Michel Djotodia, declared himself president - the first Muslim to rule this majority Christian nation of 4.6 million people.
What Médecins sans Frontières termed “a crisis on top of a crisis” for the population accelerated considerably in September when Djotodia officially disbanded the Seleka. Many of the rebels refused to disarm and leave the militias as ordered but veered further out of control, killing, looting and burning villages. They also systematically stripped administrative offices down to the light fittings and destroyed public records.
… What started as a political movement against the corrupt and autocratic Bozizé is now taking on an ominously religious character. Nearly all the Seleka are Muslim, including mercenaries from neighbouring Chad and the notorious Janjaweed from Sudan’s Darfur region. An “us and them” mentality of mutual distrust and paranoia is taking root, with some Christians taking up arms in vigilante militias known as “anti-balaka” - meaning anti-sword or anti-machete - and committing atrocities of their own, giving the Seleka a pretext for yet more aggression. The spiral of violence has become a recruiting sergeant for thousands of child soldiers.