Most Muslims “driven out of western CAR”

Central African Republic

Most Muslims have been driven out of the western half of conflict-torn Central African Republic, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said.

The bleak warning came as the country’s foreign minister pleaded with the UN Security Council to urgently approve a UN peacekeeping force to stop the killing.

Widespread violence in the former French colony has claimed thousands of lives since Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim northern rebels, seized power a year ago. Attacks intensified in December when “anti-Balaka” militias drawn from the majority Christian population stepped up reprisals on Muslims.

“Since early December we have effectively witnessed a ‘cleansing’ of the majority of the Muslim population in western CAR,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told a meeting of the 15-nation UN Security Council on the crisis in the impoverished and landlocked country.

“Tens of thousands of them (Muslims) have left the country, the second refugee outflow of the current crisis, and most of those remaining are under permanent threat,” he said.

The council is considering a UN proposal for a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force to stop the country from sliding toward what a top UN rights official called “ethnic-religious cleansing.” If approved, the UN force would likely not be operational before late summer.

The European Union is already deploying 1,000 soldiers to join 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops. Those forces have so far not been able to halt the killings and restore stability.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the council that there are more than 650,000 people internally displaced in CAR due to the conflict, over 232,000 in the capital Bangui alone. Nearly 300,000 people have fled to neighboring countries.

“The violence has led to the total breakdown of the state, locally and nationally,” she said.

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