French soldiers watch as Muslims flee Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. (Photo: AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
The ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic has escalated this week, with the international community now fearing a permanent split in the country — and it's starting to dominate headlines around the world.
In March 2013, the former French colony descended into unrest when a mostly Muslim rebel coalition called Seleka took power and installed rebel leader Michel Djotodia as president of the country. Christian militia groups responded with a wave of revenge attacks.
Last month, Djotidia resigned due to pressure from regional powers, causing many Seleka to flee the capital of Bangui and return to other regions or leave the country altogether.
Now, the United Nations and Amnesty International are warning that an exodus of tens of thousands of Muslims amounts to "ethnic cleansing," reports CBC News.
"We cannot just continue to say 'never again.' This, we have said so many times," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late Tuesday. "We must act concertedly and now to avoid continued atrocities on a massive scale."
Officials in the United Nations and other international organizations have been warning for months that the situation in CAR could erupt into genocide.
According to CBC News, more than 1,000 people, both Christian and Muslim, have been killed in the country since December, and more than 1 million have fled the country out of fear. Many are fleeing to Chad, a neighbouring country with a predominantly Muslim population. (In CAR, Muslims are in the minority, accounting for 15 per cent of the population.)
"The exodus of Muslims from the Central African Republic is a tragedy of historic proportions. Not only does the current pattern of ethnic cleansing do tremendous damage to the Central African Republic itself, it sets a terrible precedent for other countries in the region, many of which are already struggling with their own sectarian and inter-ethnic conflicts," said Joanne Mariner, senior crisis adviser for Amnesty International, in a report.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that a mass grave has been found at a military camp in Bangui, which had been occupied by Seleka rebels. There are reportedly at least a dozen bodies found in the grave, though it is not known who was responsible for their deaths.
In addition to the violence, there is a growing food crisis taking shape, as many shops and food wholesalers were run by Muslims who have now fled. Food prices have gone up exponentially, with the UN reporting that 90 per cent of the country's population is eating only one meal a day.
The UN's World Food Programme (for which George is an ambassador) has begun a month-long aid airlift, as roads are said to be too dangerous to transport food without a military escort. They are flying in food from neighbouring Cameroon, and hoping to bring in enough to feed 1.25 million people.
"With the cycle of violence unstopped and the economy disrupted, CAR faces an even harsher nutrition and food crisis," WFP Regional Director for West Africa Denise Brown said in a press release. "These airlifts are a lifeline so we can bring food to the most vulnerable wherever we can reach them."
For more information on the developing crisis, go to CBC News.