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.
“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.
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.”