Faith Karimi, CNN, January 3, 2014
Escalating violence in the Central African Republic is posing a threat to children, with at least two beheaded and thousands recruited as soldiers, the United Nations said.
The United Nations says it verified the deaths of 16 children since violence broke out in the capital of Bangui on December 5. Dozens of others have been injured.
“We are witnessing unprecedented levels of violence against children. More and more children are being recruited into armed groups, and they are also being directly targeted in atrocious revenge attacks,” said Souleymane Diabate, UNICEF representative in the nation.
Late last year, the U.N. said the number of child soldiers in the nation had doubled to 6,000 as violence escalated.
In the capital, 370,000 people — about half the population — have been displaced, the United Nations said.
More than 935,000 people have been internally displaced nationwide, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.
The nation plunged into chaos after a coalition of rebels named Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize in March, the latest in a series of coups since the nation gained independence.
They accused him of reneging on a peace deal and demanded that he step down. Months before his ouster, both sides had brokered a deal to form a unity government led by the President.
But that deal fell apart as the rebel coalition pushed its way from the north toward the capital of Bangui, seizing towns along the way.
Rebels infiltrated the capital in March, sending Bozize fleeing to Cameroon.
Since then, political turmoil raged and violence became the order of the day. Seleka is a predominantly Muslim coalition, and to counter the attacks, vigilante Christian groups fought back. The country descended into anarchy, and the United Nations has warned that a genocide is brewing.