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Fighting over the spoils of war: Resources, resentment at heart of C.A.R. conflict

Benedict Moran for Aljazeera America

3 December 2014

 

BAMBARI, Central African Republic — Notre Dame des Victoires Church, or NDV, is in a small parish about a 10-minute drive from the city of Bambari in the center of the Central African Republic. A French priest established the Catholic outpost in 1857. There’s a large red brick cathedral, a nearby house where clergy sleep and rows of classrooms where villagers once sent children to school. Nowadays, NDV is home to thousands of Christians who have fled brutal violence in the surrounding countryside. Families sleep anywhere that is dry and warm — the empty classroom, priests’ storage closets, unused chicken coops. There is a market in the driveway leading to the main chapel.

Hundreds of civilians have been displaced and living in camps like NDV over the past six months because of an uptick of violence between Muslim and non-Muslim communities near Bambari. “Some have had their homes destroyed, and they don’t have anything left,” said Jonas Rawago, the head priest at NDV. “They are scared to go back. They are waiting for fighters to be disarmed to start over.”

The Central African Republic has been rocked by sectarian violence since the Séléka, a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels, toppled the country’s president last year. Fighting between the Séléka and a group of mostly Christian fighters known as the anti-Balaka has killed thousands of people and brought the country to the brink of ethnic cleansing. Though much of the country has seen bloodshed, Bambari is the current center of the conflict. The region is one of the most volatile in the country — and violence is spreading there like an infection.

Much of the hostilities reflect not a religious conflict but a power struggle between ambitious individuals. The Séléka, which moved its headquarters to Bambari in May this year, remains in control of the region, but is increasingly fractured by internal divisions. Anti-Balaka fighters, including many from the south, are infiltrating the area and launching attacks on Séléka fighters and Muslim villagers.

The town is now divided. Muslims keep within the limits of their neighborhood, and thousands of Christians, fearing for their lives, seek shelter at three displaced people’s camps that are guarded by international peacekeepers.

 

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