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U.N. Warns Of Possible Genocide In Central African Republic


At a U.N. Security Council meeting over the weekend, diplomats warned of a possible genocide in the Central African Republic. This is a country right near the equator that borders the Congo and the Sudan. It's been in turmoil since a military coup in March left it basically without a functioning government. A half-million people, about a tenth of this country's population, have been forced from their homes in recent weeks as the violence has just gotten worse.

What started out as a rebellion in the north part of this country appears like it could split the nation along sectarian lines, pitting Christians against Muslims. And to learn more about this, we turn to Kristen van Schie of South Africa's Star newspaper. She just returned to South Africa from the Central African Republic where she was doing some reporting. Kristen, good morning.

KRISTEN VAN SCHIE: Good morning. How are you?

GREENE: I'm well. Thank you. Kristen, take us to some of your reporting here. This country, this Central African Republic, one of the world's poorest, there is a lot of mineral wealth there, I mean, how did this all start?

SCHIE: Basically, this is one of several coups that CAR has had over the decades. This coup actually rose up out of failed agreements from the last coup. It's a coalition of rebel groups in the north called Seleka, who decided that they weren't happy with what the new government was doing and began their march south towards the capital in December.

There was a ceasefire agreement, but the rebels felt that the president was still not sticking to his agreements with them. And that's when they moved into the capital city Bangui in March and took over the country.

GREENE: Well, you've been to some of the towns that have been overtaken by this rebel group that eventually, you know, knocked the president out of power. What are some of the images that really stick with you?

SCHIE: Hmm. What really sticks with you is the complete lack of government outside of the capital city. I mean, when you're in Bangui itself, it seems secure. I mean, there are soldiers everywhere. But you don't get a feeling as if you're in danger. It's when you're outside of the city that it just feels as if any sense of government has ceased to exist. You feel as if you are sort of in a no-man's land.

You see these villages that have been completely deserted and burnt to the ground. You're seeing people living in refugee camps right outside of churches. And you're seeing emptiness. People have just fled into the bush to get away from this conflict.

GREENE: You had one powerful story from a convent that you visited. Remind me what happened there.

SCHIE: This convent was in a town called Bouca, where Christians and Muslims have always lived together in peace in the past. But early in September, they had conflict break out in that town where, early one morning, a Muslim sector of the town was attacked by a group of armed men. Seleka, the rebel group, came to the defense of the Muslim sector of the town, and so the Christian sector of the town also got attacked.

And what you saw come out of that was this sort of Christian-on-Muslim violence. The result of that now is that you have half the Muslim population is living in the imam's compound, half the Christian population is living in a refugee camp outside this convent. And Muslims and Christians on both sides, who have always lived together peacefully, have now been killed.

GREENE: And that seems to be one of the real sad parts of this conflict. It did not begin as a sectarian conflict, but now these religious differences that didn't seem all that important in the past are really becoming a part of it.

SCHIE: Absolutely. When you're going through the communities there, there's a lot of intermarriage. There's a lot of business between both sides of the community. The Muslim population is the minority in the CAR, but the majority of the rebels happen to be Muslim, because they come from that part of the country. So, something that was never a problem before now becomes a religious divide because the people who've taken over your country are from a different faith.

GREENE: We've been talking to Kristen Van Schie from South Africa's Star newspaper about the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic. Kristen, thanks so much.

SCHIE: Thank you very much, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.