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Chadians under fire in volatile Central African Republic

24 December 2013, 15:45

Bangui - "Welcome to Bangui", reads a stone plaque at the airport greeting visitors to the Central African Republic capital.

A stone's throw away, the body of a young man lies in the dust, his head showing a gaping bullet wound.

Chadian soldiers, part of a UN-mandated peacekeeping force, had opened fire on Monday on thousands of stone-throwing protesters, injuring around 40, three seriously, while killing the youth.

Kneeling next to the body, amid shouts from an agitated crowd, the victim's brother cries: "The Seleka [ex-rebels] killed my mother and my father. And today they've killed my brother."

French soldiers come for the body and transport the wounded to a nearby field hospital set up by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders).

Trying to quell the protesters' rage, they shoot in the air to disperse them.

Rogue militants

The protesters, mainly Christians, had gathered at the airport at dawn to demand the departure of the Chadian members of the African force known as Misca.

The Chadians, mainly because they are Muslim, are accused of complicity with the Seleka rebels who overthrew president Francois Bozize in March in the predominantly Christian country.

Interim president Michel Djotodia officially disbanded Seleka, but some of its members went rogue, leading to months of killing, rape and pillaging - and prompting Christians to form vigilante groups in response.

Amnesty International says some 1 000 people have been killed since 5 December, mostly by Muslim ex-rebels but also in Christian reprisal attacks.

Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries within Seleka are blamed for many of the worst crimes against civilians.

Chadian peacekeepers of Misca are associated with the former rebels because they hail from the north of the Central African Republic near the border with Chad.

The so-called "anti-balaka" (anti-machete) Christian vigilante groups have also targeted Chadian civilians who own countless little shops in Bangui.


At the MSF field hospital, the wounded lie on the ground awaiting treatment.

"I came to watch the demonstration," said Ludovic Feinguina, 24, blood oozing from around a bandage on his leg. "I'm not sure who fired on me."

Suddenly a wheelbarrow cuts through the noise and smoke of the camp, bearing an unconscious young man whose head is bleeding profusely.

"Muslims hacked him with machetes," shouted Feinguina. "The foreigners must go."

For thousands of Chadians who live in Bangui, there is no longer any alternative. "What do you think we should do? We have to leave, and that's it," said Raymond Ngakoutou, an elderly Chadian hoping to leave.

"We've realised that we can't explain to all Central Africans that we have nothing to do with the Seleka who are committing abuses," he said.

Along with dozens of other compatriots, a Chadian student who gave his name as Raymond hangs out outside the heavily fortified Chadian embassy in central Bangui.

"We and the Central Africans have a linked history, we are neighbours. I have never hurt anyone, so I am sorry to have to leave, but I have no choice," he said.

On Sunday, Ndjamena announced that it would repatriate any nationals "in distress".

"We're afraid. We're always afraid," said Blague Mobetis, another student waiting to go home. "It's impossible to live like this. I don't want to pay for the Seleka mercenaries.

"It should never have ended like this."



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