Screenshot of a video uploaded to YouTube. An edited version of this video is shown below.
The victims are beaten, humiliated and ultimately forced to pay a ransom. A YouTube video shows the ordeal that former Seleka rebels imposed on a group of male residents of Bozoum, a small city in northwestern Central African Republic.
The footage shows half-naked men with their hands tied to their feet, splattered in mud. They are filmed in this position for several minutes. A while later, one of the men is cut free. Haggard and foggy-eyed, he manages to get up with great difficulty, suggesting that his ordeal may have lasted a long time.
Warning: these images are shocking.
According to Father Aurelio Gazzera, an Italian priest in the Bozoum diocese and one of our Observers, this type of event has become frequent since the city was taken over by Seleka rebels in late March.
Father Gazzera has no doubt that the perpetrators who filmed this video are former members of the Seleka, which is now officially dissolved. First of all, the pick-up trucks in the video are covered with small spots of paint. This is a tell-tale sign: the Seleka are well known for their low-quality paint jobs, meant to hide the origin of stolen vehicles. Furthermore, several times during the video, there are close-ups of a man known as “Goni”, who is one of the Seleka’s chief officers in Bozoum.
The Seleka rebel coalition (“the alliance” in the Sango language) took control of the country following a coup d’état on March 24 of this year. Since then, clashes between the new regime’s forces and supporters of former president François Bozizé have plagued the country and cost the lives of several hundred people. On September 13, faced with a deteriorating situation, the Central Africa’s transitional president Michel Djotodia announced the immediate dissolution of the Seleka coalition, without specifying how this measure would be implemented. Now, the former Seleka members have carved out little fiefdoms in the countryside and in the capital, Bangui. According to the authorities, these are “rogue” soldiers, wanted for a number of violent crimes including systematic looting of the population.
When reached on the phone by FRANCE 24, the Chief of Staff of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) indicated that the “anarchist militias that are committing crimes against the population are currently being sought for arrest and sentencing. We are working with the Fomac [the Central African Multinational Force] to try to bring peace to the country”. FRANCE 24 was unable to reach the leaders of the now-disbanded Seleka in Bozoum, which includes the man called “Goni”.
“In order to be freed, I was forced to sell my cassava mill as well as my land”
Pierre (not his real name) is not seen on the footage but was part of the group of men that were bound and tortured.
It all began on September 11 around 11:00pm. Armed men — as it turns out, former Seleka rebels — came to my home because, according to them, I was hiding a homemade rifle [a type of small hunting rifle that is very common in the Central African Republic]. They searched everywhere, but could not find anything. Yet they still decided to detain me in order to “ask me a couple questions”, they said.The men drove me to a former inn, which currently serves as their headquarters and interrogation centre. Before Bozoum fell to the rebels, the inn had a dozen or so rooms. However, it was subsequently looted and the rooms were transformed into prison cells. As soon as I arrived, they bound my arms and legs together and locked me in a cell with other men. We stayed tied up in this way until the next day at around 2:00pm [according to our Observer, the video was shot at that time on September 12].“The most pathetic part of this whole story is that there’s a police station right in front of where we were sequestered”At that point, they untied me, but they still didn’t let me go. I had to buy my freedom by paying them 150,000 CFA [about 230 euros]. In order to pay this amount, I was forced to call my family and ask them to sell my cassava mill as well as my land. Those who, unlike me, did not have the “luck” of owning anything of value had to ask their families for help. In our group, two brothers that refused to give in to our captors were beaten – not just on their bodies but also on their faces. They eventually gave up and called friends to come and pay the ransom.As long as they did not get their money, the rebels weren’t releasing anyone. I was only able to go home on September 23. Until then, I was left to rot in a cell where I had to sleep on the ground.The most pathetic element of this whole story is that a police station is right in front of the former inn where we were sequestered. However, the police didn’t do anything. They lack weapons and have no authority over these guys. They were mere observers of this whole sad saga.The Seleka may be officially dissolved, but rebel groups remain, and they now only obey their immediate leaders and continue to sow terror wherever they go. Two self-anointed colonels, who control roughly two dozen men, are in control of Bozoum. They may not have many soldiers, but since they have weapons, they have all the power.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Grégoire Remund.