Thousands of Muslims fail to flee CAR capital

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BANGUI, Central African Republic -- Thousands of Muslims who sought to flee the violence in Central African Republic's capital were turned back by peacekeepers Friday, as crowds of angry Christians shouted, "We're going to kill you all."

The convoy was turned back as France announced that it would send 400 more soldiers to its former colony, which is mired in unprecedented sectarian fighting. The United Nations chief, meanwhile, warned Friday that in Central African Republic "the very fabric of society, woven over generations, is being ripped apart."

"We must live up to the promises made around this table to act swiftly and robustly in the face of such bloodshed," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council. "We cannot claim to care about mass-atrocity crimes and then shrink from what it means to actually prevent them."

In Bangui, some cars carried as many as 10 people as the convoy made its way through the capital, the second such mass exodus in a week. Christians gathered alongside the road to taunt the Muslims, many of whom have been targeted by murderous mobs in recent weeks.

But the convoy, which stretched as far as the eye could see, was turned around because peacekeepers feared that it would be attacked as it traversed some volatile parts of Bangui.

The procession of vehicles was halted in the Miskine neighborhood, where one vehicle tumbled into a ditch on the roadside. On orders of a Burundian captain, African peacekeepers went vehicle-to-vehicle, instructing everyone to return to a local mosque, an Associated Press journalist at the scene said.

Peacekeepers halted the group before it could pass through neighborhoods where fresh fighting had erupted Friday. At least one person was killed there in a grenade attack by Christian militiamen, witnesses at a nearby mosque said. French peacekeepers had to evacuate two other severely wounded people from an angry crowd that set tires on fire and shouted anti-Muslim and anti-French slogans.

Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled for their lives as Christian militiamen and crowds of angry civilians have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks. Muslims have been killed by mobs almost every day, and their bodies have been mutilated and dragged through the capital's streets, despite the presence of peacekeepers.

Victims have been accused of supporting the Muslim Seleka government forced from power last month. The Seleka rebels had cited economic and political grievances, not religious ideology, in previously overthrowing the president of a decade. But the Seleka became deeply despised, and their armed fighters are accused of scores of human rights abuses against the country's Christian majority during their 10-month rule.

The violence against Muslims and their current exodus from Central African Republic is tantamount to "ethnic cleansing," according to warnings issued earlier this week by a top U.N. official and Amnesty International.

The French mission chief in Central African Republic has called the Christian militiamen "enemies of the peace," even though they began as a way to protect Christians against attacks by the Muslim rebels.

Before the crisis, Muslims made up about 15 percent of Central African Republic's 4.6 million people. Most of the displaced Muslims have headed to Chad, a predominantly Muslim neighboring nation whose military has provided armed guards for departing convoys.

Outside the capital, an untold number of other Muslims have been slain. Amnesty International on Friday said its researchers found an 11-year-old girl alive among scores of bodies in a remote village west of the capital. Her parents were among 20 people slain in an attack there several days ago, the rights group said.

France strengthened its presence in its former colony to 1,600 troops in early December, who are joined by nearly 6,000 African peacekeepers. On Friday, France announced that it is increasing f its troops on the ground in Central African Republic by 400, for a total of 2,000.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that the bloc has commitments for more than the 500 troops it initially expected to send to Central African Republic and "is looking at double that number."


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