President François Hollande congratulated Catherine Samba-Panza as interim ruler of the former French colony, the Central African Republic (CAR), less than a month ago.
When she was sworn in, she called for an end to the violence. But this week, she has declared “war” against the Christian militia groups known as Anti-balaka, who formed after the Muslim rebel coalition, Séléka, terrorized the Central African Republic.
Samba-Panza replaces Michel Djotodia, who was described by the BBC as “a Soviet-trained civil servant who turned into a rebel commander…” Djotodia “led the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) into a coalition with other Muslim rebel groups to form Séléka, which spearheaded the offensive to overthrow Mr Bozize.”
It seems that Djotodia was about raw power, as he was arrested in Benin in November 2006 “for using the country as a base for his rebellion against Mr Bozize” (Bozize, by the way, overthrew President Ange-Félix Patassé in 2003).
Djotodia successfully overthrew President Francois Bozize in March 2013 and “became CAR’s first Muslim ruler, plunging the country into a religious conflict between the Muslim minority and Christian majority.”
Between March and June, Human Rights Watch issued a mind-boggling report that documented the continual rape, murder, looting and destruction of villages and even larger towns by the Muslim rebel coalition.
With no accountability, the atrocities went unpunished.
Responsibility to Protect reported,
“Frustrated by the complete lack of law enforcement in the country, many civilians have decided to form these self-defense militias to confront the Seleka’s abuses.”
Anti-balaka, meaning “anti-machete” was born, consisting of groups of Christians. In some recent reports, “anti-balaka” has been translated as “invincible,” but balaka is the word for “machete” in a local language called Sango. They can be identified by their “amulets,” which they wear to protect them from machetes. The amulets are also useful for anti-balaka to ensure that their members are legitimate.
With Djotodia now firmly in power, he no longer needed the rebel coalition and in September, he announced that he dissolved Séléka, saying it “no longer exists.” But Séléka had their own plans. With the escalating violence and “amid mounting international pressure,” Djotodia stepped down as President in January, as reported at the Washington Post, which reported on the violence in December 2013:
“More than 1,000 people were killed in December as bloodshed erupted along religious fault lines, prompting nearly 1 million people to flee their homes. Djotodia’s fighters were predominantly Muslim, and their attacks on the majority Christian civilian population during their rule had led to Christian militias attacking mosques and killing Muslim civilians accused of supporting Djotodia and his rebel movement, known as Seleka.”
Reuters reported that a mass grave was found in December “near a military base used by Seleka rebels.”
Although “peacekeepers” from neighboring African countries have been sent in to quell the violence, there are reports that some soldiers from Chad have amplified the violence.
“Most Seleka fighters withdrew from Bangui after Samba-Panza’s inauguration last month, but Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that the rebels were regrouping. The rights group accused Chadian peacekeepers of facilitating the movements of Seleka leaders responsible for a new wave of atrocities. ‘If the African Union is truly going to protect civilians in the Central African Republic, it needs to rein in the rogue activities of the Chadian peacekeeping troops,’ said Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s emergencies director.”
From the BBC:
“Last week, soldiers from neighbouring Chad took some of Boali’s Muslims back to their country. Chad’s troops have been frequently criticised for openly siding with the Muslim Seleka fighters, and on this occasion they reportedly opened fire on civilians in Boali, killing several people.”
Catherine Samba-Panza came into her role as interim president, declaring:
“I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings.”
Yet, less than a month later – this past week – the BBC reported that Samba-Panza has declared “war” on the Christian militias, saying,
“We are going to go to war against the anti-balaka…They think that because I’m a woman I’m weak. But now the anti-balaka who want to kill will themselves be hunted.”
In an exclusive interview with Mike Hanna of al Jazeera, Samba-Panza said that she took the ex-Seleka in her government, but if they committed crimes, “they will have to pay for it.”
Watch her comments here: