Seleka soldiers in the Boy Rabé neighourhood on Saturday, April 13. Photo published on Facebook by Diaspora.
The capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, was rocked by clashes between Seleka forces (the new coalition in power) and locals during the weekend of April 13 and 14. Residents living in the affected areas claim the new government’s disarmament operation has become a pretext for Seleka troops to pillage the population.
Saturday’s violence coincided with the presidential inauguration of Michel Djotodia, leader of the Seleka rebellion that ousted president François Bozizé. Unelected, he has claimed the title for the next eighteen months. Seleka rebels seized the capital on March 24 and some have since been appointed ministers in the new government.
The new president has said he is committed to carrying out the so-called ‘DDR’ process: disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, which mainly targets former soldiers loyal to Bozizé.
This process lies at the heart of last weekend’s violence: Bangui residents refuse to acknowledge the Seleka rebels’ authority and accuse them of using the disarmament drive as an excuse for widespread looting.
A first wave of looting had already taken place immediately after the Seleka rebels’ coup in March. According to the Red Cross, at least 119 people died and 456 were injured. Last weekend, three areas of the capital were particularly badly hit by violence. On Saturday and Sunday, shots were fired between local residents and coalition patrols in the eastern neighbourhoods of Ouango and Ngaragba while, also on Sunday, pillaging in the northern neighbourhood of Boy Rabé led to heightened tensions between locals and Seleka forces.
“They spent two hours in my home, and they left with all our electronic equipment’
Alban J. (not his real name) was the victim of looting at his home in eastern Bangui on Saturday April 13.
During the day, local youths mounted resistance against men from the Seleka, who were going door-to-door in my neighbourhood. Shots rang out for five hours. We thought it was over, but just before 8pm eight men in uniform, wearing red berets [Editor’s note: the Seleka’s usual attire] came into my home.Only one of them spoke Sango [Editor’s note: Sango is the main language spoken in the Central African Republic]. The others did not even speak French or English; they spoke to each other in Arabic [Editor’s note: many members of the Seleka were recruited in Chad and Sudan]. They started by asking if I was part of Francois Bozizé’s family, if I was Gbaya [Editor’s note: Bozizé’s ethnic group], and if I was a former soldier. I showed them papers to prove that I wasn’t, but they said: “it’s all the same to us” and they shot at the walls to make me understand I had to obey them.Taken on Saturday, this photo shows our Observer’s apartment after it was looted by members of the Seleka.They made us sit on the ground, my family and me, with our hands behind our heads, while one of the men held a gun pointed at us. They spent two hours in my home, ransacked everything, and they left with all our electronic equipment: our computers, our mobile phones, even our fridge. As they were leaving, the man that spoke Sango told us they would come back at 4am to finish us off. So we decided to leave our house and take shelter with relatives in a different neighbourhood.
The day before his house was looted; our Observer secretly filmed his neighbour’s car being stolen: “We saw the armed [Seleka] rebels, accompanied by idle youths who act as their informers, take the number plate off before leaving with the car”.
“The Seleka are mostly looking for young men who could have been in the COCORA”
Crispin B. (not his real name) lives in an eastern neighbourhood in Bangui.
Whether you’re rich or poor, it’s no different to them. On Saturday, in the seventh arrondissement [Editor’s note: in Bangui’s east], they shot dead a mango seller in the road at close-range, while she was with her eight-month-old baby. That’s why people living nearby decided to rebel against the injustice we’re faced with.Video of a hearse carrying the body of the mango seller. This video was sent by one of our Observers in Bangui.
Members of the Seleka are mostly looking for young men who are the right age to serve in the army. They are very suspicious because they know that a lot of young men in the area have served in the ‘patriot’s coalition’ against the Seleka rebels, in an attempt to maintain security in their neighbourhoods during the rebellion. [Editor’s note: prior to the Seleka’s seizure of Bangui, former president Bozizé encouraged the formation of COCORA, an armed ‘patriots coalition’]. Everyone is a suspect: on Saturday I had to hide in the forest on Bangui Hill, to avoid being arrested.It’s unbearable – we feel like there’s no rule of law since members of the Seleka have been carrying on as they please, terrifying the population. We thought President Djotodia would intervene to stop the looters, but it’s quite the opposite: he has basically endorsed their actions by saying that the priority was to disarm former soldiers.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).