Soldiers lynched an innocent bystander in the Central African Republic yesterday, beating the man to death before scores of witnesses only moments after the new president had voiced “pride” in their professionalism.
The brazen murder, carried out with the utmost brutality, was another sign of the nightmarish disintegration of this remote country of 4.5 million people.
Hundreds of soldiers clad in red berets and new camouflage fatigues were on parade in the capital, Bangui, to greet the new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza. She took office last month with the task of organising a general election.
Ms Samba-Panza promised the soldiers that her government would pay their wages for the first time in five months. “I would like to renew my pride in those elements of FACA [Armed Forces of the Central African Republic] who are here and to ask them to support my actions wherever they are,” she said.
As soon as she left, soldiers gathered around a bystander and accused him of being from the Seleka rebel movement. What followed was witnessed by a journalists from news agencies including Associated Press and Reuters. “I will kill him with my own hands,” shouted one army recruit. The soldiers set upon the man with knives and bricks, kicking him to the ground, stripping him to his underwear and stabbing him over and over.
As he lay on the ground, bleeding profusely but still alive, peacekeeping soldiers from Burundi tried to protect him. They surrounded the man’s prostrate form, holding back the crowd of soldiers and bystanders.
But as the mob grew more furious, the Burundians abandoned the man to his fate, retreating without firing a shot. One gendarme in a blue uniform who also tried to intervene was threatened and accused of being a traitor. The mob seemed willing to kill him too, but other officers managed to take him to safety.
Then the victim was stabbed and beaten to death where he lay. Afterwards, the mob stabbed his body and dragged it through the streets before setting his corpse alight.
A Western security expert in Bangui said this was the third public lynching in as many weeks. The CAR is trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of retaliatory violence. Last March, the Muslim leader of the Seleka rebels, Michel Djotodia, captured Bangui and declared himself president. The Seleka then began murdering Christians across the country.
After Mr Djotodia resigned last month, the boot was on the other foot. Christian militias, styling themselves Anti-Balaka, retaliated by killing Muslims at random.
Yesterday’s victim was believed to be a Muslim. “What’s happening in the city is that the Anti-Balaka are forcing out all of the Muslims by killing them outright—or by going into the neighbourhoods where they live and pillaging them then burning everything down,” said the security expert. “Now you have a whole bunch of ex-Seleka running around with no leaders—and a whole bunch of Anti-Balaka who are just kids from the villages with machetes.”
France has deployed 1,600 troops in the CAR, but they lack the numbers to restore order. The African Union has sent another 5,000 peacekeeping soldiers, mainly from Chad and Burundi.
However, Chad’s largely Muslim contingent has been accused of helping Seleka to massacre Christians.
“If the African Union is truly going to protect civilians in the Central African Republic, it needs to rein in the rogue activities of the Chadian peacekeeping troops,” said Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch.