CAR Christians stage pro-France protest, 1 killed

Scores of Christians staged a pro-France protest near the airport in Bangui, capital of the troubled Central African Republic.

BANGUI

Scores of Christians on Monday staged a pro-France protest near the airport in Bangui, capital of the troubled Central African Republic (CAR).

One person was killed when the demonstration was fired upon.

Shots were fired when Chadian soldiers, part of an African peacekeeping force, drove past in two pick-up trucks.

According to an Anadolu Agency reporter at the scene, the shots had emanated from the Chadian vehicles as they had rounded a corner.

It was not clear whether just one soldier – or a number of soldiers – had opened fire, according to the reporter.

When contacted by AA, a general of the Chadian peacekeeping force declined to comment on the incident and hung up the phone.

The shooting left one man lying on the floor bleeding as French troops that were present tried to help him.

He was carried away but died shortly afterward.

The shooting occurred near a French military checkpoint located close to the airport.

Following the incident, panic ensued, with people running in different directions.

Taken by surprise, the French forces urged protesters to remain calm.

The crowd was seized by hysteria, however, with French troops struggling to keep protesters back.

French troops fired into the air to try and keep the protestors back.

Additional French troops were eventually brought in to secure the area.

Some of the protesters had carried placards bearing anti-Chad slogans.

“We Central Africans say: ‘yes’ to disarmament, ‘yes’ to the Sangari operation, ‘no’ to the Chadian military,” one of them read.

Protesters also demanded the resignation of the country’s incumbent Muslim president.

The protest came one day after CAR Muslim staged mass demonstrations in the capital against French intervention, accusing French troops of anti-Muslim bias.

On Sunday, Muslim representatives gave French troops in the country a one-week ultimatum to end what they described as French support for the self-styled anti-balaka Christian militias.

They threatened a Muslim rebellion against the French and the partition of the country into a Muslim north and a Christian south.

CAR, a mineral-rich landlocked country, descended into anarchy in March, when Seleka rebels – said to be mostly Muslims – ousted Christian president François Bozize, who had assumed power in a 2003 coup.

France has deployed nearly 1,600 troops in the country under a UN mandate to restore security in its former colony.

– CAR minister accuses France of ‘arming’ Christian militia

A government minister in the troubled Central African Republic (CAR) has accused France, the country’s former colonizer, of arming Christian militias accused of perpetrating atrocities against local Muslim communities.

“The French are now siding with the anti-balaka,” General Mahamat Nouradine Adam, minister of state for security, told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.

“They’re providing them with arms, food, medicine and uniforms,” he charged. “They now have new guns.”

CAR, a mineral-rich landlocked country, descended into anarchy in March, when Seleka rebels – said to be mostly Muslims – ousted Christian president François Bozize, who had assumed power in a 2003 coup.

The months since have seen the emergence of self-styled “anti-balaka” Christian militias.

In a Thursday report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the anti-balaka as “local vigilantes and soldiers loyal to the previous government.”

In its report, HRW asserted that the Christian militia had perpetrated a number of recent “atrocities” against local Muslim communities, including the murder of several hundred Muslims and the burning of their homes and mosques.

On Sunday, representatives of CAR’s Muslim community gave French troops a one-week deadline by which to end what they described as “French support” for the anti-balaka.

They threatened to stage a rebellion against the French and partition the country into a Muslim north and a Christian south.

Under a UN mandate to restore security in its former colony, France has deployed nearly 1,600 troops in CAR.

“Before the French brought their troops into the country, we had relative stability,” the minister said.

“Everything was going to be okay, but they intervened.”

“The French were supposed to be a neutral peacekeeping force, but now they’re one-sided,” Adam argued.

A spokesman for the French peacekeeping contingent was not immediately available to comment on the accusations.

-Bias-

General Adam accused western media, especially French, of portraying his government in a negative light.

“We found weapons inside a church on Friday. The anti-balaka have been hiding weapons inside the church,” he said, suggesting that western media ignored the news.

“We just took the weapons and left the people we found in possession of the weapons,” the minister said, adding that he had been accompanied by African peacekeepers when the weapons were found.

“This shows that some of the meetings to attack Muslims are planned inside the church,” the minister suggested.

But Bangui Archbishop Mgr. Dieudonne Nzapalainga, for his part, denied that any weapons had been found inside the church.

He told AA that the weapons had been kept outside a church near which some anti-balaka fighters had been hiding.

Adam noted that some French media outlets had reported on Friday that ex-Seleka fighters in the predominantly Muslim Kilometer 5 neighborhood were exchanging fire with anti-balaka fighters.

“The reality was that the anti-balaka had attacked a defenseless Muslim population in the area,” said the minister. “Journalists must tell the truth and not side with groups.”

According to the Red Cross, at least 29 Muslims were killed in Friday’s anti-balaka attack on the Muslim neighborhood.

-No seleka-

The security minister, who had been deputy leader of the disbanded seleka coalition, claimed that no seleka fighters were currently on the streets.

“We disbanded Seleka in September,” he told AA. “All those who joined the national army are currently in camps.”

When asked if some ex-seleka vehicles and troops were still patrolling certain areas, the minister denied reports to this effect.

“We agreed with the peacekeepers to take our soldiers off the streets because they were being accused… of committing crimes,” he recalled.

The minister asserted that ex-seleka soldiers were not even allowed to leave their barracks to visit their families.

“There are currently no ex-Seleka fighters on the streets of Bangui; they’re all living in the barracks,” he reiterated.

“So whoever commits a crime in the name of being an ex-seleka is not one of our soldiers.”

General Adam said their political rival should wait until elections.

“We went into the bush to fight the former regime because our communities were oppressed and marginalized and the country was being mismanaged,” the former seleka leader said.

“Our enemies have not given us an opportunity to showcase how we can effectively run the country,” he charged.

“There have been many coups in CAR, but they have opposed our coup because the president and some of us are Muslims,” the minister said.

“Those opposed to our government should be patient until elections are held in 18 months,” he added. “But for now, we’re in charge.”

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 23 December 2013

Bangui imam claims French killed 3 Muslims

BANGUI

An imam in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), claimed on Sunday that French troops had killed three Muslims.

Isa Hassan, the imam of Masjid Al Noor in Kilometer 5, claimed French soldiers had shot all three men through the head.

He said the men were all shot Sunday close to Kilometer 5, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of the capital Bangui.

The chairman of the committee supervising the mosque, Yahiya Abu Bakr, repeated the same accusation.

“The French did this, everyone knows,” he told AA.

“I have covered the heads with plastic bags as they were all shot in the head,” he said. “The bags are holding the heads together.”

People standing around the local mosque repeated his version of events, although the French were not immediately available for comment.

AA asked the crowd if anyone had seen the French actually shoot the men, everyone suggested that they had seen it.

AA reporter saw four bodies inside the mosque, including one in military fatigues.

At least two of the bodies had their heads wrapped with plastic bags.

The fourth body was reportedly of a local imam allegedly killed by the self-styled Christian militia known as anti-balaka.

The French military press officer in Bangui has not responded to our repeated calls and text message until the filing of this report.

CAR, a mineral-rich landlocked country, descended into anarchy in March, when Seleka rebels – said to be mostly Muslims – ousted Christian President François Bozize, who had assumed power in a 2003 coup.

France has deployed nearly 1,600 troops under a UN mandate to restore security in its former colony.

-French problem-

There were roadblocks throughout Muslim areas of Bangui today.

Protestors held up placards and chanted, “Hollande is a criminal,” in referring to French President François Hollande.

Demonstrators used rocks, metal barrels and pieces of wood to block the road.

Earlier in the day, French and Congolese peacekeepers violently broke up an anti-French protest carried out by Muslims in Bangui.

The French and Congolese soldiers fired volleys of teargas and nitrogen grenades to disperse protesters in the Galabadia neighborhood, close to the president’s private residence.

The protestors burnt tires and blocked the roads whilst carrying anti-French placards.

“French crimes against the Central African Republic,” one placard read.

Muslims in the capital have been frustrated and angry at the French intervention which they claim is against the Muslim population.

“The problems started as soon as the French stepped foot in this country,” imam Hassan told AA.

“Normal Muslims have never attacked anyone and even now we hold back, but the French are disarming Muslims and allowing them to be killed by mobs,” he said.

Representatives of Muslims today gave French troops in the country a week ultimatum to end what they described as French support to the anti-balaka.

They threatened a Muslim rebellion against the French and a partition of the country into a Muslim north and a Christian south.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 22 December 2013

Chadians flee CAR violence

Dozens of Chadian citizens trickle to a military base for African peacekeepers near Bangui airport in the hope of catching a military plane out of the war-ravaged CAR

BANGUI

Dozens of Chadian citizens, including women and children, continue to trickle to a military base for African peacekeepers near Bangui airport in the hope of catching a military plane out of the war-ravagedCentral African Republic (CAR).

“It’s not safe for us here anymore,” Maguirgue Homore, a Canadian national, told Anadolu Agency inside the base.

“I saw four people die,” said Homore, who had come to study political science at Bangui University.

After three years his education is in doubt as he now has to leave the country.

CAR, a mineral-rich landlocked country, descended into anarchy in March, when ex-Seleka rebels – thought to be largely Muslims – ousted Christian president François Bozize, who had come to power in a 2003 coup.

According to UN estimates, more than 400,000 people – nearly ten percent of the country’s 4.6 million-strong population – have abandoned their homes as a result of the violence.

Cars continued to arrive at the military base, with Chadian citizens being forced to stay in a plane hangar.

Women and children were amongst those arriving in over packed cars.

Children clutched their younger siblings, whilst others helped carry the family luggage.

Chadian troops, who form part of the African Union peacekeeping force, MISCA, were there assisting their compatriots.

A military plane and a helicopter landed kicking up the dust.  But it was not for the civilians. It was for military use only.

-Unsafe-

Abdullah, another Chadian, had been in the base for a day.

“There is no peace or security here for us,” he told AA as he carried his suitcase and stood in the shade of the hangar.

“No one is really helping us since the situation started,” he lamented looking at compatriots standing out in the sun.

“It has got worse and worse. I just want to go back home to my country,” asserted Abdullah.

Abdullah, like most of the Chadians we interviewed, lived in Kilometer 5, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Bangui.

At least 29 Muslims were killed when the Christian militia anti-balaka attacked the neighborhood on Friday.

It seemed that Friday’s attack was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many Chadians.

There were around 300 of them at the military base, though none of the Chadian peacekeeper could give us a definite figure.

The conditions at the makeshift camp were difficult.

As we stood, one man approached and asked me for some water for his children.

Suddenly, all eyes turn to the tarmac.

A private jet was landing carrying, we were told, the head of the Chadian military.

The Chadians looked on wondering when their plane would take them home.

Maguirgue, the political science, sat down on the floor with his arms folded.

“Peace and security, that’s all we asked for,” he fumed.

“No one cares about us. I’m not going back to Kilometer 5.  We can’t.”

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 22 December 2013

AA enters hot-spot CAR

AA London correspondent Assed Baig and Johannesburg correspondent Hasa Isilow began to wire latest news and imageries from CAR after an uphill journey.

ISTANBUL

Anadolu Agency (AA) crew managed to enter troubled Central African Republic (CAR), amid deadly clashes creating humanitarian crisis, on Monday.

AA London correspondent Assed Baig and Johannesburg correspondent Hasa Isilow began to wire latest news and imageries from CAR after an uphill journey.

Arriving at the country where rival groups fight, Baig said that it was a very difficult ride to CAR. Flying from London to Paris to get his visa, Baig arrived in Cameroon through Ethiopia. He finally landed in the CAR’s capital city Bangui on a humantarian aid plane, to where all commercial flights are canceled.

On the other side, Hassan Isilow from South Africa landed in Bangui on a humanitarian aid plane which also took off from Cameroon.

– AA’s signature on world’s media

Anadolu Agency, whose progress is followed by domestic and foreign media with care, has started to place the “Anadolu Agency” signature in the memory of the world media by means of the cooperation with “AFP image forum” and “Getty images” which are among the largest news and video distribution networks.

AA photographs which are distributed via Getty Images, AFP-Image Forum and Scanpix are used with “Anadolu Agency” signature at weekly magazines, dailies and websites of the US, Canada, South Africa, England and Europe.

Concordantly, AA photojournalists immediately send their photographs taken at torrid points of the four corners in the earth. Latest developments which took place in Ukraine, Thailand, South Africa and the Philippines reach to every corners of the earth by means of AA photojournalists.

In this scope, AA’s correspondents, photojournalists and cameramen working at offices of Paris, Rome, Moscow, Frankfurt, Berlin, New York, Cairo, Beirut, Jerusalem and Islamabad are providing the daily flow of news, photographs and videos without delay.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 20 December 2013

29 killed in Bangui violence since Thursday: Red Cross

At least twenty-nine Muslims were killed since Thursday

BANGUI

At least 29 people have been killed in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic(CAR), in the last 24 hours, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The violence started Thursday night when Africa Union peacekeepers came under attack from the self-styled Christian militia known as anti-balaka.

On Friday, anti-balaka militants attacked a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Bangui.

An ICRC official, who did not wish to be named, told Anadolu Agency late Friday that the total number of dead was 29 “at the last count.”

He did not give a breakdown of the fatalities.

An AA had counted the bodies of twelve Muslims killed in the anti-balaka attack on the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Kilometer 5 earlier in the day.

The slain people had wounds caused by machetes in the nick, face and other parts of their bodies.

Local residents told AA the attack occurred at 6:30am and accused the French peacekeepers of failing to protect them.

Kilometer 5 is the strongest standing Muslim suburb in Bangui and its where most Muslims who were displaced from Christian neighborhoods have sought asylum.

On Thursday evening eight African Union peacekeepers were wound in an attack by the anti-balaka militias.

“When we were driving to go back to our barracks, the anti-balaka militants threw a grenade behind our van injuring 8 of our soldiers,” Col. Gebril Omar told AA yesterday.

He said two of the injured soldiers need to be operated on.

One of the soldiers, a Chadian, has reportedly succumbed to his wounds.

CAR, a landlocked, mineral-rich country, descended into anarchy in March, when Seleka rebels – said to be mostly Muslims – ousted Christian president François Bozize, who had come to power in a 2003 coup.

The months since have seen the emergence of self-styled Christian militias, known as the “anti-balaka.”

According to UN estimates, more than 400,000 people – nearly ten percent of the country’s 4.6 million-strong population – have abandoned their homes as a result of the violence.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 20 December 2013

HRW documents ‘atrocities’ against CAR’s Muslims

BANGUI

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday accused Christian militias of perpetrating a number of recent “atrocities” against Muslim communities in the northern Central African Republic (CAR).

“They began to cut my husband with their machetes on his side and his back,” one Muslim woman told HRW, describing a dawn attack by anti-balaka militants on their home. “Then they cut his throat.”

“After they killed him, they set our house on fire,” she added. “They threw his body on the fire, together with that of my son.”

“They ordered my 13-year-old son to come outside and lie down,” the Muslim woman recounted. “Then they cut him two times with a machete and killed him.”

HRW’s 34-page report, based on weeks of field research in CAR’s northern Ouham province, cites a surge in violence since September by Christian anti-balaka militias.

“The anti-balaka have killed several hundred Muslims, burned their homes and stolen their cattle,” concluded the report, entitled: “‘They Came To Kill’: Escalating Atrocities in the Central African Republic.”

The rights watchdog reported that a Muslim cattle herder had been 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.

Another man told HRW how he had escaped from anti-balaka attackers only to watch in horror from a hiding place as they proceeded to cut the throats of his two wives, ten children and one grandchild.

HRW accused the Christian militias of carrying out “coordinated attacks against Muslim communities” in Bossangoa, the capital of Ouham.

It noted that on December 5 anti-balaka forces had “shot or slit the throats of at least 11 Muslim civilians” in Boro, a district of Bossangoa.

In recent days, Anadolu Agency has published testimonies of several victims of attacks by anti-balaka militiamen.

CAR, a landlocked, mineral-rich country, descended into anarchy in March, when Seleka rebels – said to be largely Muslims- ousted Christian president François Bozize, who had come to power in a 2003 coup.

-Reprisal-

HRW described the anti-balaka militias as “local vigilantes and soldiers loyal to the previous government.”

It refuted claims that the militias were local “self-defense” forces, asserting that “their actions and rhetoric are often violently anti-Muslim.”

According to HRW, attacks by Christian militias against Muslim communities “were largely in response to rampant abuses by Muslim armed groups.”

After the anti-balaka attacks, the report noted, ex-Seleka forces had taken revenge on a number of Christian residents of Bossangoa, killing many and torching their homes.

“The ex-Seleka revenge killings appear to have had the backing of senior commanders in Bossangoa,” HRW asserted.

It accused Bossangoa deputy commander, Colonel Saleh Zabadi, of ordering the drowning of seven farmers on November 18 on suspicions that they belonged to an anti-balaka militia.

“The farmers were bound and thrown into the Ouham River; just three survived,” said the report.

The report went on to say that 40,000 Christians had been displaced in Bossangoa and were currently seeking refuge in Catholic churches, while 4,000 Muslims remained on the other side of the town.

“The brutal killings in CAR are creating a cycle of murder and reprisal that threatens to spin out of control,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW emergencies director and the report’s author.

“The potential for further mass violence is shockingly high,” he warned.

According to UN estimates, more than 400,000 people – nearly ten percent of the country’s 4.6 million-strong population – have abandoned their homes as a result of the violence.

-Bolster Peacekeeping-

Citing continued abuses in the north and in Bangui, the HRW called for additional African Union troops and stepped-up support for French peacekeeping efforts.

“Urgent support for peacekeeping in CAR is crucial to bring stability to a tense situation, protect the population from abuses, and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those at grave risk,” Bouckaert asserted.

HRW has called on the UN Security Council to immediately authorize a peacekeeping mission to CAR under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

“The UN Security Council needs to act quickly to bring this evolving catastrophe to a halt,” said Bouckaert.

France, under a UN mandate, currently has 1,600 troops deployed in its former colony.

The African Union, meanwhile, has 2,500 troops stationed in the country.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 19 December 2013

CAR’s Muslim minority decries anti-balaka ‘atrocities’

AA investigates attacks against Muslims carried out by the Christian militia known as the “anti-balaka,” meaning “anti-machete.”

BANGUI

Since the outbreak of the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), reports have focused on the Muslim rebel seleka group and the atrocities it has been accused of perpetrating against civilians.

But little, if anything, has been reported about attacks against Muslims carried out by the Christian militia known as the “anti-balaka,” meaning “anti-machete.”

In Kilometer 5, a bustling Muslim neighborhood in the capital Bangui, 48-year-old Bashir sat on a plastic rug at the back of some shops off the main road.

He used to live in Fouh, a predominately Christian area of the capital that also had a Muslim minority.

“When the trouble started, the anti-balaka attacked the Muslims in the area,” Bashir, wearing a traditional white dara (a long open cloak) and a white hat, told Anadolu Agency.

“The local mosque was destroyed, just like my home,” he lamented.

Bashir claimed to have witnessed the murder of four people, including his younger brother, before he managed to escape.

“The machete hit him on the side of the neck,” he recalled tearfully.

“There were so many people – not just anti-balaka, but Christians from around the area.”

Hundreds have been confirmed killed in recent days in Bangui alone – victims of tit-for-tat sectarian violence between seleka and anti-balaka militias.

CAR, a mineral-rich landlocked country, descended into anarchy in March, when Seleka rebels ousted Christian president François Bozize, who had come to power in a 2003 coup.

According to UN estimates, more than 400,000 people – nearly ten percent of the country’s 4.6 million-strong population – have abandoned their homes as a result of the violence.

-Mutilated-

Yahiya Abu Bakr, chairman of a committee that oversees the local mosque, said at least 108 Muslims from the area had been killed in recent violence.

“Women, children, even pregnant women were slaughtered by the anti-Balaka,” he claimed.

“The anti-balaka cut off people’s limbs,” Abu Bakr told AA. “I also saw bodies that had their genitals removed,” he said.

“We perform the funeral prayers here, so I know about the injuries sustained by those that were killed,” insisted Abu Bakr.

The most recent funeral was on Saturday.

AA reporter was shown mobile-phone footage allegedly filmed at the scene of anti-Balaka attacks perpetrated last week.

The gruesome video shows several people lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Some appeared to have been horrifically mutilated as they breathed their last.

People standing around the dying Muslims were shouting “la ila ha illallah” – “There is no God but Allah” – apparently encouraging the dying men to pronounce the Muslim declaration of faith before they expired.

At one point, the video shows a man who is still alive being picked up and laid onto a stretcher, pieces of his mutilated body hanging off.

There was no way of independently verifying the video, its content or where or when it had been filmed.

“We want peace,” asserted Abu Bakr, the mosque chairman.

“We are ready to call for it, but the anti-balaka are the ones that are doing the provocations by killing Muslims and destroying mosques,” he said.

Not far from the mosque, a number of internally displaced Muslims took shelter.

“They killed four of my children: two sons and two daughters,” Salma, who declined to give her second name, told AA.

The slain children, she said, were aged ten, eight, six and two.

The mother – visibly traumatized – made very little eye contact as she braided her young daughter’s hair.

She stopped a few times with a blank and distant look in her eyes.

“My father and mother were also killed in the attack,” added Salma.

As a French military convoy made its way through the Muslim neighborhood, Umar Didi watched it scornfully.

“They are the troublemakers!” he shouted.

“People were killed in front of French soldiers who did nothing,” he claimed.

Umar Hussain, a Muslim businessman, suggested to have witnessed such an incident.

“During the troubles, some people decided to carry knives with them for their own protection because there was a lot of looting and the anti-balaka had gone on a killing spree,” he told AA.

“The French disarmed some people in front of the Christian mobs, and then just left them at the mob’s mercy,” Hussain claimed.

“The mob murdered them in the most brutal way, while the French stood by and did nothing. How is this peacekeeping?” he asked.

A spokesman for the French troops deployed in the country was not immediately available to comment on the specific incident.

But General Francisco Soriano, commander of the French contingent, has acknowledged “misconceptions” about his troops.

“Our operation is not partial,” he told reporters on Tuesday at the French military base near Bangui airport. “We take into consideration both parties.”

Hussain, for his part, angrily disagreed.

“We don’t trust the French because we’ve seen their one-sided actions,” he fumed.

“How can they just leave people to be slaughtered – and watch while it takes place?”

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 18 December 2013

Bangui Muslims skeptical about French disarming

The French peacekeeping troops in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, insisted that they are disarming all armed rebels, a contention questioned by many Muslims.

BANGUI

The French peacekeeping troops in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, insisted on Tuesday that they are disarming all armed rebels, a contention questioned by many Muslims.

“The first objective is to identify any party bearing arms and then to proceed to their disarmament,” General Francisco Soriano, the commander of the French contingent, told reporters at the French military base near Bangui airport.

“We know that arms have been spread across the country but we are carrying out some operations to cover those areas,” he added.

France has some 1,600 peacekeepers deployed in the country under a UN mandate to restore security and protect civilians.

They set up check points on the main road of the capital city earlier on Tuesday.

The troops would stop and search local vehicles and disarm people carrying weapons at the time, not those hiding weapons in their homes.

The majority of the checkpoints, however, were only out for a few hours before the peacekeepers headed back to their base.

It seemed more like a show of force than an actual disarmament exercise.

CAR, a mineral-rich landlocked country, descended into anarchy in March, when Seleka rebels, who are mostly Muslims, ousted Christian President François Bozize, who had assumed power in a 2003 coup.

According to UN estimates, more than 400,000 people – nearly ten percent of the country’s 4.6 million-strong population – have abandoned their homes as a result of the violence.

Hundreds have been killed in tit-for-tat sectarian violence between seleka fighters and self-styled anti-balaka Christian militias Bangui alone in recent days.

-Blinded-

In Kilometer 5, a Muslim-majority neighborhood of the capital, the locals accused the French and African troops of aiding the Christian militias.

“They are only disarming Muslims. The anti-Balaka still have their weapons,” claimed Hassan Haroon.

“We want peace, but look what the Christians have done,” he fumed.

“They destroyed some of our mosques, desecrated the Quran, killed pregnant women, and murdered children.  Some of them were chopped to bits,” Haroon told AA.

Yahya Abu Bakr, another local Muslim, agrees.

“The French are only disarming the Muslims,” he insisted. “How about they disarm the anti-Balaka?”

Some Muslims went as far as accusing the French troops of turning a blind eye to the killing of their fellow religionists.

“We are scared in our own country,” lamented Hassan Bashir, insisting that the French do not care about Muslims.

“If someone kills a Muslims, loots our property, or destroys a mosque, it doesn’t bother the French troops, they are not here for us,” he claimed.

Back at the French military base, General Soriano said he was aware of “misconceptions” about his troops.

“Our operation is not partial,” he maintained. “We take into consideration both parties.”

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 17 December 2013

No end in sight for civilians in CAR

Anadolu Agency (AA) Correspondent Assed Baig has travelled to the war stricken region of the Central African Republic to report on the crisis

BANGUI

The number of internally displaced people camped at the airport in the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, has increased to 40,000 according to aid workers in the city.

In March this year Seleka Muslim rebels seized power in the majority Christian country. They removed the President Francois Bozize from power and replaced him with Michel Djotodia. The Seleka have been accused of carrying out atrocities against Christian communities. The Christian anti-Balaka or anti-machete have started to fight back, but not without being accused of atrocities of their own.

In recent weeks, the French have intervened in their former colony sending 1,600 troops to the troubled country to try and stop the violence that has ensued. 2,500 African Union troops are also in the country aiding the mission. President Djotodia has lost control of many of the rebels that brought him to power. People see him as lacking legitimacy. Although he has been trying to talk to militas of late, maybe fearing that his days in power are numbered if he cannot help bring some sort of peace to the country.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 600 people were killed in violence last week. There is no real way of finding out the exact number as travelling outside of the capital is dangerous. There is still a curfew in place in Bangui.
Last week, the number of internally displaced people was 30,000, but despite the presence of French and African troops the number has increased as people still fear for their safety. They have camped at the airport where the French troops are based. They feel like it is safer. However, Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders) workers told Anadolu Agency that there is not enough aid to meet the needs of those in the camp.

“Water, sanitation, plastic sheeting and blankets.  It’s cold at night and these are only the most basic of needs,” said Cpement Chauvel.

Standing inside the camp he told Anadolu Agency, “Nothing has been distributed, take a look around for yourself.”

MSF have been working on the ground with local and international staff. They recently wrote a letter to the United Nations criticising their response to the humanitarian crisis.

“All these people want is to go back to their homes. But they can’t go back until they feel it is safe,” said coordinator for MSF, Lindis Husum.

Malaria and malnutrition is also becoming a massive problem here at the camp. It is hot and there is very little shade. People line up crammed next to each other, waiting to be seen by MSF doctors that are working flat-out to try and meet the needs of these people.

Charoline Bekaye came to the camp two weeks ago. She has her two-year-old baby with her and waits in line to be seen by a medic.

“We fled because of the war. I will return, but only when it changes,” she told Anadolu Agency. Charoline is at the camp with her six children and says that she is struggling to feed them.

Larissa Danboi gave birth in the camp two weeks ago. Her baby boy is dressed in pink. “Any baby clothes I had were destroyed when our house was burnt down, this is all I have left,” she says.

The baby doesn’t have a name yet. The family didn’t expect the baby to be born in this camp. The last two weeks of violence have forced many to come here in search of a sense of safety.

“There is an average of eight babies being born a day here at this camp,” says Husum. “We have local midwives but we need more. There is one that has come into the country today. We can’t wait to see her, she is very badly needed,” Husum tells us.

The camp is surrounded by barbed wire and security is tight. Two French troops were killed last week, something that shocked the French and the local population. There is a process of disarming taking place, but locals told me that they believe rebels have just changed into civilian clothes and are hiding their weapons.

There have also been revenge attacks on Muslims carried out by Christians. Mosques have been burnt down and Muslims murdered in the street. People want to take their own form of justice; mob violence has been a common occurrence over the last two weeks. There is a lot of resentment towards the Seleka, but this has been directed towards Muslims in the country, even if they had nothing to do with the Seleka.

Shops and businesses were open today, taxis were running and people were in the streets. The road from the airport had African Union soldiers and police standing every 100 meters or so. Soldiers with their guns at the ready and police with their riot gear stand out amongst the locals. There is a feeling here that the atmosphere could switch at any minute and that the mobs will once again take to the streets to try and dish out their own form of justice.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 16 December 2013

Trafficking on human misery: encountering plight of undoc’d migrants fleeing Libya

AA commissions investigation into how Libyan smugglers transport undocumented migrants from the restive N.African state into Europe, via Italy.

LONDON

Anadolu Agency recently commissioned an investigation into how Libyan smugglers transport undocumented migrants from the restive North African state into Europe, via Italy.  Our correspondent Assed Baig posed as a migrant trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa in order to gain an insight into the smuggling network.

There are several places where boats leave from: Tripoli, Zawara and Misrata are the most popular departure points.  We chose to concentrate on trying to get a boat from Tripoli.

“Don’t worry, you will definitely get to Lampedusa, there is a boat leaving soon. It’s a sure thing,” said the voice on the other end of the telephone.  He went on tell me that there was a cargo ship due to sail shortly, and that I could buy my passage onto it, but I had to be quick as places were filling-up rapidly.

As I would learn later, this offer and the conditions of passage would change several times.  The smugglers use these tactics to ascertain their potential customer’s level of interest and sheer desperation, before reeling them in to embark on the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to the Italian island.

Smuggling is big money.  Charging up to $2,000 per person, and filling up a boat to 200 people can mean that smugglers can get rich fast, with little or no concern for the people that they are sending out to sea, many of whom will meet their death before they ever see Europe.  The Libyan smugglers shrewdly employ people from other nationalities in order to entice potential customers from destitute immigrant communities.  These individuals can be Somali, Chadian or Pakistani. My smuggler’s name was Kashif.  He was from Pakistan and had been in Libya for a few years; operating his lucrative smuggling business from there. He had no need to resort to making a dangerous trip to Italy unlike the migrants.

You never get to meet the smugglers until the time of departure.  Once you are picked up by the smugglers and taken to a ‘safe house’ there is no turning back.  You have to stay in the safe house until the boat is ready to leave.

In Tripoli I met Atif, a Kashmiri who had attempted the journey to Lampedusa but failed. He was kept in a safe house for five days.  I spoke to others that had stayed longer, up to fifteen days in one case.

“The smugglers check the internet for weather reports before they set off,” Atif told me.

Whilst talking with Atif, I found out that his village in Kashmir is only an hour and a half’s drive from where my family comes from.  It was a sad discovery- and one that prompted hard reflection.  My grandfather had moved to the UK, where I was born, and Atif had been born in Kashmir, where the economic hardships had forced him to leave and try and gain passage to Europe.  What if I had been born in Kashmir- would I too be in Libya risking my life to get to Europe so I could support my family back home?

Those that captain the boats often have very little experience at sea.  Sometimes the migrants are given a discount on the price for passage for steering the boat themselves. Once on the ship the smugglers point the escapees in the direction of Lampedusa and they set sail, using substandard vessels, many with motors that run out of fuel mid-ocean.

The boats that take the Somalis to Lampedusa are cheaper to pay for, but much more dangerous.  The Syrian boats are more expensive but are bigger and ‘safer’ according to Atif.  The Syrians have more money, at least more than those from Somalia, Mali, and Niger.

 “They told me it would be a big boat, but once I saw the boat I was shocked. It was so small,” Atif told me whilst sitting in the hotel he now works in.  There are many migrants working in hotels across Tripoli. They sometimes work there to save up money to be able to afford the journey to Lampedusa.

“We got lost, and the boat began to take in water.  For three hours we wandered the sea, not knowing where we were headed,” recalls Atif.

“The Libyan coast guard then found us and we were all taken to prison,” he claims.

“They didn’t beat me but they beat the blacks badly.  It was horrible.  The women were asked for sex in return for their release,” he told me, with a troubled look on his face as he recalled what he had witnessed.

 A few days later Kashif, the smuggler, contacted me again.  I told him I still wanted to go but was uncertain about going into a safe house.  He reassured me, “You don’t have to go to the safe house if you don’t want, we’ll just let you know when the boat is leaving and you can get on it then,” he said.  It seemed too good to be true.  Kashif also repeated that it would be a cargo ship and that I would be sharing it with other people from different nationalities, mainly Syrians.

The details changed by the time we had our next conversation.

“It’s a big fishing boat, we’ve had to change some things because of the troubles in Tripoli,” he told me.  Over forty people had been killed the previous day as a militia opened fire on demonstrators.  Kashif had conveniently changed the mode of transport from a cargo ship to a fishing boat.  I was not very confident that it would be a large fishing boat.

Two days later Kashif called again.  He said “do you still want to go?” in a direct and firm manner.  I told him I did.

“Look, I don’t want to lie to you, you seem like a nice guy.  The boat is leaving in the next few days, we will pick you up, and will take you to the safe house.  You won’t be able to leave until the boat is ready to go,” he told me with an air of urgency.

“Once you are in the car there is no turning back.  Even if you don’t like the boat, you’re getting on it, these Libyans will beat you senseless and throw you on that boat, but you will not be able to turn back,” he said sternly.  He had changed all the conditions.  I told him I still wanted to go but needed a day to think about it.  He told me to think quickly as the boat was leaving soon.

Feeling anxious, I put down the phone.  I could not take anything with me on the ship- no bag, only our money; mobile phones would be taken off us and only handed back when we boarded.  There were now an over-abundance of risks to consider – first off, there was no telling how long I would be at the safe house; then there was the hazard of drowning out at sea; and most troubling of all, there was the danger of being discovered as a journalist.  The smugglers do not want to risk giving up their location of departure or safe house out of fear of getting caught.  Also, once someone has seen the smugglers faces, they do not want you turning back, they are very cautious not to get caught.

I had been interviewing people all week- perhaps someone had noticed me. If one of the smugglers or fellow migrants became suspicious of me and concluded that I was either a spy or journalist, I would probably end up dead.

What’s more, I thought, if I drowned or was murdered at sea, it would be very likely that no-one would ever find out how or where I died. Thoughts of my son without a father drifted through my mind.

 “The one sending them does not care about whether they make it or not.  He just wants his money.  He wants to see them off the shore and out of sight.  He knows the chances of the migrants making it to Lampedusa are minimal,” said 35-year-old Ashraf, who has been a fisherman for over 15 years.  He told me smuggling has increased since the fall of Gaddafi.  The country’s instability has benefited criminal gangs who are capitalising on people’s desperation.

Ashraf added that he has seen boats with migrants out at sea. “The boats are always over loaded, a boat that is meant to carry 50 people, the smugglers put on 200, maybe more.”

“It’s suicide to go on those boats, most of the people never make it,” he observed.

 The boat was due to leave the next day; I had to weigh up the risks, and decide whether to go or not.  It was impossible to resist the conclusion that the danger was simply too great.

Having edged toward a final decision, I was prompted to bitter reflection: if I was an undocumented migrant fleeing the war in Syria, or endemic poverty in Somalia or Eritrea than I would not have the option of stepping back from such risks- because anything would be better than what I had left behind.  Risking my life would have seemed a viable option, even if it meant surrendering my fate to the smugglers and the sea.

That day I went out and looked out at the shores of the Mediterranean.  The waves were smashing across the rocks relentlessly.  How could a boat even leave under these conditions?  Yet as bad as they were, I knew from my experiences so far that many poor and desperate people would attempt the crossing, perhaps in even worse weather, and that some unscrupulous trafficker would make money out of it.

In the end the decision was made for me.

Anadolu Agency thought the risk and danger were far too high for me to go with the smugglers. There would be no way of knowing where I was, where I was being kept, when I was leaving and if I would make it.  Taking all these factors into account, the agency pulled me out due to safety concerns.  We do not know what happened to the boat that was scheduled to leave Tripoli.  We are not sure if they made it.

 “I’ve seen them floating out in the water, I’ve brought up bodies in my fishing nets,” Cruz, a fisherman in Tripoli, told me as I stared out at the sea, knowing that I would remain on solid ground for the rest of my time in Libya.

“I have seen bodies out at sea, men, women, and children,” he added, before leaving me with my thoughts.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 7 December 2013