Fighting in Central African Republic (CAR) has intensified greatly in the past few days, reports Doctors Without Borders, as the situation becomes increasingly dangerous for French and other foreign peacekeepers trying to bring about calm in the region. The organization says hospitals have received at least 200 wounded patients since December 20.
Rebel Muslims, called Selekas, overturned the majority-Christian government in a March coup, and unrest has been escalating ever since. The violence peaked in early December, when hundreds of people were killed, prompting some to warn that the country may be on the cusp of genocide.
The U.N. approved a French deployment to the region in December and CAR's former colonial sent in soldiers to protect civilians. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said at the time, "It is clear that urgent action is needed to save lives." At first, the French troops were welcomed, but they have since been suspected of siding with the Christian majority after French President Francois Hollande took a public stance against the interim Muslim president.
While the French have become associated with the Christian side of what looks like a sectarian conflict, peacekeepers from Chad are seen as supporting the Muslim rebels. Chadian peacekeepers opened fire on Christian demonstrators on Monday, further exacerbating the tension. Reuters reports on the anti-intervention sentiment in CAR:
Protesters said the Chadians drove their vehicle at the crowd after demonstrators threw stones at them. "No Chadians in [capital city] Bangui" chanted members of the crowd, while others waved placards saying "No to the Chadian army", the protesters said... scores of demonstrators took to the streets of Bangui on Sunday to complain that French forces were disarming only Seleka fighters, exposing Muslims to revenge attacks by anti-balaka [Christian self-defense militias].
The New York Times reports that though sectarian violence is historically rampant in Africa, some religious leaders in CAR say the Christian-Muslim divide has been stoked by political leaders acting in their own interest:
The conflict ripping the country apart revolves around the oldest of motives: a struggle for power. Mostly Muslim rebel forces known as Seleka, or Alliance, overthrew the government in March, ousting President François Bozizé and putting in power the country’s first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia. Since then, Christian militias backed by Mr. Bozizé have tried to overthrow the Muslim alliance. But the crisis had been building for years, and the religious leaders said the mutual animosity leading Christians and Muslims to attack one another was, at its roots, a manufactured one, deliberately stoked for political ends. Now, they fear it has taken on a life of its own.
Muslims continue to march against French troops' presence in CAR in the country's capital, Bangui.