Islamic body to visit Central African Republic

AYA BATRAWY
February 20, 2014

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The world's largest bloc of Islamic countries agreed Thursday to send a high-level fact-finding mission to the Central African Republic and to appoint a special representative to coordinate efforts with the African Union and the United Nations.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation's decision comes as the country's Muslim minority faces deadly and gruesome attacks from Christian militiamen and mobs. The O.I.C. made the decision in an emergency meeting at the body's headquarters in Saudi Arabia.

More than 1,000 people have been killed since sectarian fighting erupted in early December and nearly 1 million out of the country of 4.6 million people have fled their homes. More than 1,600 French troops and about 6,000 African peacekeepers are in the Central African Republic.

The O.I.C. said it would "urgently dispatch" its high-level mission to the country to visit the capital, Bangui, to explore the situation, express solidarity with Muslims and to contribute to any peace talks.

O.I.C. Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani said entire neighborhoods in the Central African Republic have been emptied of their Muslim populations, with property and mosques destroyed. He said the forced resignation of the country's first Muslim president only emboldened Christian militias, which he described as criminal gangs that need to be combated.

"With the fast and sharp deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the country, it has become imperative for a collective and timely engagement of the entire international community to help the new authorities restore order and stabilize the country because of the implications of the crisis on the peace, security and stability of the wider region and even beyond," Madani said.

Guinea's Foreign Minister, Lounceny Fall, will head the O.I.C's delegation to the Central African Republic. He called on the organization to issue a firm statement to call for an immediate end to the "heinous acts" being committed against Muslims. He said the organization must combat intolerance.

"Trapped in a complex conflict with diverse consequences, including prolonged instability, overall insecurity and overwhelming poverty, our Muslim brothers living in the country are subjected to daily ... violations fuelled by hatred and exclusion," Fall said.

The violence has displaced tens of thousands of Muslims in what the U.N. human rights body has called "ethnic-religious cleansing." Many have fled to different provinces of the country and to the neighboring nations of Chad, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Senegal.

Members of the Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka accuse Muslims of having cooperated with a much-despised Muslim rebel government that crumbled last month amid mounting international condemnation.

The O.I.C. also called on member states and others to step up aid to people in need. The body of 57 Muslim-majority member states previously has called for strong action from the French and African-led peacekeepers operating in the country.

The U.N. refugee agency says it will airlift aid in the coming week that will cater to 20,000 people and will consist of 20,000 blankets, 10,000 jerry cans, 20,000 mosquito nets, 20,000 sleeping mats and five vehicles.

The UNHCR said the relief aid to the Central African Republic will come from its stockpile in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The organization in December sent prefabricated warehouses, kitchen sets, buckets, sleeping mats, tents and a generator, in addition to 10 vehicles.