DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Rebels in Central African Republic decimated a mostly Christian village earlier this month, burning down dozens of homes, after demanding fuel and money from a nearby Muslim community to attack "the enemy," an international human rights group said Monday.
The report from Human Rights Watch underscores how the rebels from the now-dissolved coalition known as Seleka are exacerbating divisions between Christians and Muslims in the country's north to further their cause.
French and United Nations officials warned recently that the seeds of genocide are being planted in Central African Republic, a desperately poor country where authorities exerted little control outside the capital even before a the government was overthrown in March. The predominantly Muslim rebels have been known to target mostly Christian villages. Further alarm has been raised as the rebels have called for local Muslim communities to help them attack Christian communities.
"It certainly reflects a growing sectarian tension in the country that people are starting to define themselves along these lines. We find it really, really worrying," said Lewis Mudge, a researcher with Human Rights Watch's Africa division.
The human rights group is urging rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia to reprimand Abdallah Hamat for his role in the Nov. 10 attack that destroyed the town of Camp Bangui. Djotodia has sought to distance himself from the rebels, despite the fact that they brought him to power. Djotodia formally dissolved the Seleka rebel coalition but many have not given up their attacks. Some ex-Seleka fighters apparently have been integrated into the national army, though the command structure is unclear.
Hamat, who calls himself a general, is accused of rallying citizens in the town of Gaga to help provide supplies for the attack on Camp Bangui, where predominantly Christian citizen militias known as anti-balakas were believed to be operating.
"In Gaga, Hamat requisitioned motorcycles from local transporters. He then requested fuel and 'donations' from the local Muslim population, asking an assembled crowd in Arabic: 'Are there no loyal Muslims here to donate fuel so we can fight the enemy?'" Human Rights Watch detailed in its report.
Hamat and his forces later made their way to Camp Bangui, located more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) away in an area only reachable by motorcycle. The death toll of the Nov. 10 attack has not been determined because of insecurity in the area, the rights group said.
Hamat acknowledged there was fighting between his forces and the civilian militia in Camp Bangui but said "maybe four homes were burned."
"My elements do not have the right to cause disorder. If they do, I will sanction them," he told Human Rights Watch. "I want peace. I want people to return to their homes."
The Seleka movement incorporated fighters from several existing armed groups and officially launched its rebellion in December 2012. In March thousands of rebels descended upon the capital and forced President Francois Bozize out after a decade in power. They quickly installed their leader Michel Djotodia as president, though months later the country remains in a state of near-anarchy.
The rebels are accused of carrying out scores of atrocities, including killing, torturing and raping civilians and forcibly conscripting child soldiers. Most of the attacks are taking place in isolated areas of Central African Republic where details only emerge after survivors make their way to safety. Much of the violence has focused around Bossangoa in the country's northwest, the home region of Bozize where rebels are accusing civilians of backing the ousted leader.
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