World Bulletin / News Desk
A group of Muslims in the troubled Central African Republic (CAR) have formed a new group with the stated aim of defending their co-religionists from attacks by Christian anti-balaka militias, a former minister has said.
The so-called "Organization of the Islamic Resistance" (ORMC) includes some 5000 people brought together to defend the Muslim population from the anti-balaka, former tourism minister Abakar Sabone told Anadolu Agency.
According to the ex-minister, the new militias have been built on the "ruins" of the former seleka rebels – said to be mostly Muslim – who ousted president Francois Bozize, a Christian, in 2013.
Sabone said the formation of the new militia was a natural response to recent atrocities committed by anti-balaka against Muslims.
"They destroyed our homes and looted our property. They said they didn't need us; that we're not from CAR. What should we do?" Sabone said.
According to the former minister, ORMC is a coalition of three movements: the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity, the party of former president Michel Djotodia; the Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice; and the Organization of Islamic Youths.
The group hopes to eventually march on Bangui, while avoiding international peacekeeping forces, Sabone said.
"We have a total of 5000 well-equipped men. For a start, the goal is organized resistance," he added.
"This is self-defense," Sabone stressed. "But thereafter, as any movement of this kind, we can't help but set our sights on Bangui."
"We're not planning to conflict with international forces on the ground, unless they intervene," he noted. "Didn't they watch as massacres were being carried out [against Muslims] in Bangui [without intervening]?"
CAR descended into anarchy in March 2013 when Seleka rebels removed Bozize, who had come to power in a 2003 coup. The rebels later installed Djotodia, a Muslim, as interim president.
In the months since, the country has been plagued by tit-for-tat sectarian violence between Christian anti-balaka militias and former seleka fighters.
Anti-Muslim violence has escalated since Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian, was elected interim president in January.
Christians, who account for the majority of CAR's population, accuse Muslims of supporting former seleka rebels blamed for attacking Christian homes, looting property and carrying out summary executions.
Along with French troops, there are also some 6000 African peacekeeping troops currently deployed in the country.
CAR Muslims have repeatedly accused foreign peacekeeping troops of failing to disarm anti-balaka militants.
Anti-balaka militiamen reminisce about killing Muslims
By the time we arrived, a group of Christian residents of the Miskine neighborhood of Bangui, capital of the Central Africa Republic (CAR), were already inside the Imam Ibrahim Mosque.
They were busy dismantling the Muslim house of worship brick by brick, hoping to sell or recycle the bricks.
Others were actively dismantling vehicles seized from fleeing Muslims.
"We anti-balaka are the indigenous residents of CAR," local militia leader Djappa Blaise told Anadolu Agency at his home.
"That's why we decided to defend our country," added Blaise, who has served in the national army for 11 years.
Blaise said he and other anti-balaka militants had received orders from their commanders to defend the Miskine neighborhood.
When asked if fleeing Muslim residents would be allowed to return to their homes, he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."
Nearby, a handful of his anti-balaka militiamen were reminiscing about recent violence.
"I killed 30 Muslims with his machete," laughed militiaman Ndizi Kane.
"Women were screaming 'Allahu Akbar' in Arabic," he added, brandishing his bladed weapon, "as if I understand what that means."
Other anti-balaka militants insisted on accompanying us to the site of the dismantled mosque.
Burnt copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, were scattered on the ground.
One anti-balaka militant used his machete to stab at one of the few Qurans to have escaped burning.
"We don't know Muhammad," he shouted, referring to the Prophet of Islam.
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