In Central African Republic, UN team investigates outbreak of sectarian violence

IDPs prepare new homes in a camp in Zémio, Haut-Mbomou, Central African Republic (CAR). Photo: OCHA/Lauren Paletta

24 November 2014 – A United Nations humanitarian mission has visited a town in the Central African Republic (CAR) amid an outburst of violence that left at least 14 people injured and three killed, the Organization’s humanitarian relief office announced today.

In a press release, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) confirmed that on 22 November, a mission composed of OCHA country team members, a representative of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA), visited the town of Zémio, on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to assess the situation following an upsurge in violent sectarian attacks.

The crisis in Zémio, which has a mixed community of both Christians and Muslims, is the first major inter-community incident in the country’s southeast since the CAR crisis began in 2012.

The violence was set-off following the killing of a member of one of the communities on 5 November, triggering a series of retaliation attacks with grenades and weapons, and leading to the burning of more than 50 houses in the villages of Barth and Bagou, which are located some 40-45 kilometres from Zémio. At least 14 people were injured in the violence while 3,000 people were displaced.

Late last week, an OCHA spokesperson reported that the situation remained highly tense as armed men with guns, machetes, knives, bows and arrows were still present in the town.

“We call upon all parties involved to support social cohesion and peaceful cohabitation among communities through economic revitalization, infrastructure rehabilitation, and grassroots events to promote reconciliation,” Kouassi Lazare Etien, interim Humanitarian Coordinator said, following his visit to several spontaneous internal displacement sites in the region and meeting local authorities.

“Working alongside the Government, the humanitarian community will continue to assist in the creation of livelihoods and to provide durable solutions for the many people whose homes were destroyed,” Mr. Etien added.

The UN humanitarian actors are currently working with local authorities to develop common messages to reduce the threat of inter-communal violence and “to ensure the respect of humanitarian space to allow access to all populations affected,” the press release continued.

It added that a group of senior staff from the mission team stayed in Zémio to facilitate and support the mediation process following initial discussions with local stakeholders.

Thousands of people are estimated to have been killed in CAR as a result of a conflict that erupted when mainly Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks in December 2012. The violence has since taken on increasingly sectarian overtones.

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