More than 5,000 people have died in internecine violence in the Central African Republic since December, according to an Associated Press tally. The situation suggests that a U.N. peacekeeping mission approved months ago is coming too late for thousands.
The AP found that at least 5,186 people were killed in fighting between Muslims and Christians, based on a count of bodies and numbers gathered from survivors, priests, imams and aid workers in more than 50 of the hardest-hit communities. That is more than double the death toll of at least 2,000 cited by the United Nations in April, when it approved the mission. There has been no official count since then.
U.N. peacekeepers were preparing to take over from African forces Monday, bringing about 2,000 extra troops to the country. Almost 7,000 more peacekeepers were authorized in April, but the rest are not expected to arrive until early 2015 — yet violence in the Central African Republic has only spread.
"The international community said it wanted to put a stop to the genocide that was in the making. But months later, the war has not stopped," said Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African Human Rights League. "On the contrary, it has gotten worse."
The U.N. is not recording civilian deaths on its own, unlike it is in Iraq or Afghanistan, and has cited figures gathered by the local Red Cross.
It has taken months simply to gather troops from different countries for the mission launch on Sept. 15, especially with poor infrastructure in landlocked terrain, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General.
"Mobilizing troops for a peacekeeping mission takes time because it's not like they're waiting in New York for us," Dujarric said Wednesday. "We have to go knock on doors for troops, for equipment, helicopters."
A cease-fire agreement was signed in July by representatives of the Muslim and Christian factions who have been battling each other.
Sectarian violence between the Seleka Muslim rebels and the Christian anti-Balaka group has raged for the past 16 months. The Seleka rebels seized power in March 2013, overthrowing the president who had been in power for a decade. Their leader stepped down in January, setting off a series of reprisal attacks by anti-Balaka militias.
A civilian transitional government is now tasked with organizing national elections by February.
The Associated Press