Monday, 24 February 2014


Families wanting to escape Christian militias bent on wiping out the Central African Republic's Muslim community have been braving lynch mobs at road blocks to journey 650km (400 miles) to Cameroon.They join a monthly convoy that snakes to and from Cameroon's border from the capital, Bangui - guarded by African Union peacekeepers.Mariama, a Muslim woman fleeing BanguiShould I stay to see my children and husband or myself get killed?” Mariama Muslim woman fleeing Bangui .The old and the young were all rushing about her towards the vehicles - a mix of private cars and big trucks - to find a space to take them to safety."Should I stay to see my children and husband or myself get killed? No! My heart, however, remains with those Muslims I've left behind," she says.Mariama is right to be scared - the country has been engulfed by ethno-religious violence since predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels took power last year.Their leader stood down as president in January as part of a regional peace process but as the Seleka fighters withdrew Christian militias, known as "anti-balakas", have been hunting down Muslims wherever they can find them.

Machete wounds
All along the way, we drove past mosques and Muslim property which had been burnt.Some Muslims have found sanctuary in churches and others are hiding in the bushes.A vehicle loaded with people and their possessions fleeing CAR to Cameroon. People packed onto the vehicles in order to get the safe passage offered by the AU peacekeepers muslims in a fenced courtyard waiting to join the AU convoy to take them to safety At points along the way, Muslims had gathered wanting to join the convoy Muslims in CAR anxious to join a convoy heading to Cameroon There were desperate scenes as everyone tried to get a place
Whenever they heard the sound of vehicles, a few would rush out to the road - often looking exhausted and malnourished - to ask for help and to see if they could squeeze into a truck or car. At the start of the journey, we had about 150 Muslim evacuees and the number grew to 2,000 by the end. At the church in Baoro we came across a large group of Muslims who wanted to join the convoy.
CAR's religious make-up

Christians - 50%
Muslims - 15%
Indigenous beliefs - 35%
Source: Index Mundi

They were crying and begging and pleading as they are told there were not enough places left for all of them.
"I have come this far, maybe Allah decided this is where I'll finally meet my fate," said a distraught old man as the convoy was about to leave without him.I began to plead with the Rwandan commander on his behalf, but as I did, a woman came up to us with three very tired-looking children.She pointed at one of her daughters who had a machete wound and cried: "Whoever wanted to do this will accomplish it if I am not on the truck."She described how anti-balakas posed as worshippers and once inside the church compound, lashed out at children with machetes they had hidden in their jackets.The family was allowed to join the convoy, but the scene of those left behind haunted me as we spent that night sleeping out on the tarmac road.

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