On the brink of genocide: UN approves force to stop escalation of bloodshed in CAR

The worst day of violence in the Central African Republic since Muslim-led rebels overthrew the Christian president in March has resulted in swift action from the United Nations

Bodies were lying in the streets of the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR) on Thursday as at least 100 people were killed in sectarian fighting, prompting warnings from aid agencies that the country stands on “the brink”.

At least 50 corpses were taken directly to hospital morgues in Bangui, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, which sent a team to help medical teams deal with an influx of wounded. A spokesperson said the teams treated around 70 people with what the organisation described as “serious” injuries including “wounds caused by gunshots, or weapons like machetes and knives”.

The escalation in violence prompted a swift reaction at the United Nations where the Security Council unanimously approved the deployment of thousands of French and African Union troops to the troubled country.

CAR has been gradually slipping into lawlessness since March when then-rebel Muslim fighters overthrew the government of the Christian president, François Bozizé. Michel Djotodia, the Muslim leader of the alliance known as Séléka, is now the interim president of the Christian-majority country, but has struggled to control fighters who are only loosely allied to his power base. Many of those who helped him overthrow the Bozizé  government are mercenaries from Chad and Sudan.

In response to the coup, local Christian militias – known as “anti-balaka” (or “anti-machete”) – have formed and as their numbers swelled, clashes with Séléka groups have taken on increasing ferocity. It is believed that Thursday's violence began early in a neighbourhood that has remained loyal to Bozizé.

“There has been gunfire all over town,” said Amy Martin, head of the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs in Bangui, speaking to Reuters. It was also reported that the area had come under attack from Séléka fighters.

Both sides blamed each other for the  violence. Djotodia accused Bozizé loyalists of mounting the attack and ordered an overnight curfew.

General Arda Hakouma, his head of security, said anti-balaka forces were also involved.

“There are many of them. Some of them are well armed with rifles and rocket launchers. Others are dressed in civilian clothes with machetes,” he said. There were widespread reports of children participating in the violence.

“When Séléka entered, there were dead Christians. This time it could be worse ... We need the French. The French have to come quickly,” Wilfred Koyamba, a Bangui resident told Reuters.

Another resident said he saw a group of about 40 heavily armed “anti-balaka” fighters in the Ngaragba neighbourhood break open the prison doors there. One of the fighters told the source: “Stay at home. Show us the houses of the Muslims.”

Speaking to the BBC, the UN’s special representative in CAR, Babacar Gaye, said there is a danger of mass killings in Bangui if nothing is done to stop the violence.

“Today something very worrisome happened because a group... attacked the town,” he said. “We don’t know the size, but what we know is that within [Séléka], casualties have been observed including commanding officers and we know that downtown, unfortunately, targeted violence is ongoing, so we are in a very bad situation.”

Exact figures for the number of dead could not be verified. Reuters news agency reported that at least 105 people had been killed yesterday, and many, it said, were civilians. Aid groups said that non-combatants were being deliberately attacked and that there was evidence of targeted killings.

“We’ve received numerous reports from very credible sources of extrajudicial executions,” said Joanne Mariner, a crisis expert with Amnesty International in Bangui. “This underscores the need for international troops to arrive and secure the city. The situation is quickly spiralling out of control,” Ms Mariner said.

Justin Forsyth, the chief executive of Save the Children is in CAR. He told The Independent that “the fresh outbreak of violence today across the Central African Republic has reinforced the importance and urgency of boosting the peacekeeping force. As CAR descends into further chaos, it’s critical to pull the country back from the brink.”

As recently as a fortnight ago, France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned that the former French colony was, “on the verge of genocide”. Yesterday’s clashes were reported to be the heaviest since March.

The fresh wave of killing has prompted the international community, conscious of the criticism it received when 800,000 people died in sectarian bloodshed in Rwanda in 1994, to react with unusual speed. In New York, the UN Security Council voted to approve the deployment of thousands of French and African Union troops and has authorised them to use force to protect civilians. An arms embargo was also imposed on the country and the council asked the United Nations to prepare for a possible peacekeeping mission.

The UK government is understood to have agreed to send C-17 transport aircraft to the country at the request of the French, which will send another 1,200 troops to join up with the 600 soldiers it already has in CAR. They are expected to be deployed as early as Friday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Freelance AutoCAD Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Freelance AutoCAD Technician is required to ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot