National Geographic Daily News
Muslims flee the town of Bangui together with Chadian special forces. Over 10,000 peole leave the city for Chad on a huge convoy as the Muslim population is forced out of the country by the population of CAR.

Muslims flee the capital city of Bangui in the Central African Republic, aided by Chadian special forces. Thousands of people have been killed and nearly a million have been displaced by sectarian violence.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARCUS BLEASDALE, VII  

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published February 7, 2014

Widespread violence has erupted again in the Central African Republic, where thousands of people have been killed and nearly a million—20 percent of the population—have been displaced over the past few months.

The conflict began in December 2012 and has seen tit-for-tat exchanges of violence between an alliance of largely Muslim militia groups and Christian "anti-balaka" militias, resulting in thousands of deaths, according to Human Rights Watch.

Violence has escalated since March 2013, when a coup d'état by the loosely organized Muslim alliance, known as Seleka, ousted then President Francois Bozize, a Christian. The Central African Republic has a Christian majority, with a substantial Muslim minority.

The overthrow was followed by the installation of the nation's first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia, who stepped down January 10 amid international pressure over the continued bloodshed.

Last month, Catherine Samba-Panza was sworn in as the Central African Republic's first female president. She had been mayor of the nation's capital city and is seen as a nonpartisan who enjoys support from Christians and Muslims.

A member of the Christian population around PK13, located on the outskirts of Bangui, runs through looted and burning homes of the Muslims who have fled.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARCUS BLEASDALE, VII
A Christian man runs through looted and burning homes of Muslims who have fled from the outskirts of Bangui, after being targeted by Christian militias and mobs in retaliation for months of oppressive rule by a Muslim president.

Samba-Panza has been calling for peace, but British photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale, a National Geographic contributor who has been documenting

Central African Republic's crisis for months, says the violence is spiraling on.

This week, Bleasdale, along with an Associated Press photographer and a Human Rights Watch worker, rescued thousands of photo negatives from the looted home of internationally known photographer Samuel Fasso in Bangui, the capital.

Fasso is famous for his provocative self-portraits that explore issues of African identity, evoking Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and African chieftains. In one he depicts himself as Muhammad Ali shot full of arrows.

The Cameroon-born photographer recently fled the Central African Republic with his family out of concerns for their safety, leaving thousands of archival negatives behind at his home in Bangui.

Jerome Delay, the AP photographer, had noticed negatives lying in the dirt outside Fasso's home and picked up some prints from inside the looted studio. He, Bleasdale, and Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch returned the next day and rescued thousands of negatives from the house, while looting and shooting swirled around them.

A child's wound is treated while displaced persons seek shelter in the the Multinational Forces of Central Africa (FOMAC) compound in Bossangoa.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARCUS BLEASDALE, VII
A child is treated after being injured by opposing militias in a compound maintained by the Multinational Forces of Central Africa (FOMAC) in Bossangoa on December 6, 2013.

We spoke with Bleasdale about his recent experiences.

What has it been like there the last few days?

It's horrific, actually. You have a country that is essentially falling apart. Neighbor killing neighbor on a daily basis in the most brutal, horrific fashion I have ever seen. Lynchings, people attacked by mobs, people having their arms cut off, people burnt with tires around their necks like we saw in South Africa in the 1990s.

It is a complete catastrophe that no one seems to be paying much attention to. I can count the number of journalists here on my hand.

I just saw today 10,000 Muslims forced to flee from Bangui and surrounding towns north toward Chad, because they are in fear for their lives. They are getting hacked to death, attacked in streets by mobs, the districts they live in and their houses and mosques are being looted and burned, so they have no choice but to leave.

What is the violence stemming from?

This violence and hatred stems from months of Muslim Seleka rule—they quite honestly treated the Christian population horrifically.

Last year I spent time documenting abuses Seleka were inflicting, and many Christians had fled out of Bangui. Many thousands lived in the bush, and over 100,000 moved to a displaced camp in the airport.

Since March 2013 [the country] has been a violent pit of hell.

What has been the impact of 1,600 French and 4,000 African Union troops who are there, trying to keep peace?

Thankfully they're here but there's not enough of them to take care of the problem. They are doing a valiant job but the country is larger than France, so it's not enough troops to control Bangui, let alone towns outside the main city.

I was driving today down a road and a body was lying there who had been lynched. His left hand and left foot had been chopped off, his penis chopped off and his throat had been slit. That happened seven times today.

I've documented seven or eight lynchings like this in three weeks, and a lot more killings. Those are just the ones I have seen.

Has the situation gotten worse?

Yes. The international community and politicians would like you to believe that it hasn't. But it's the most violent and hateful environment I've ever documented in 16 years. And I've covered every conflict in Africa over that time, but I've never documented anything this bad.

There is so much hatred. Yesterday I was in a town that had eight mosques and over 30,000 Muslims, but now the mosques have been burnt and there are only 300 Muslims left there, hiding in a mosque surrounded by French peacekeeping forces who are trying to keep them alive.

Civilians living close to the Seleka Camp Kasai celebrate as the Sleka fighters are moved out towards PK11.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARCUS BLEASDALE, VII
Civilians celebrate as Seleka militia fighters are driven away from their region.

Have there been calls for more UN peacekeeping troops?

There have been calls for at least another 10,000 troops on the ground, because you need many more troops to try to make this work.

What is the current political situation?

There is a new president who was voted by parliament. Her dialogue has been very peaceful and full of hope. She says the violence has to stop.

Just days ago she gave a speech to Christian FACA (The National Army) and told them that the violence must end. But five minutes after she left the FACA lynched a Muslim man, right in front of the international press. It's complete and utter chaos.

View a curated stream of dispatches from recent violence in the Central African Republic, from Marcus Bleasdale and Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch.

 

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

38 comments
Curiosity Opens The Mind
Curiosity Opens The Mind

This is sad... Killing in the name of something that is believed to be pure and or good makes absolutely no sense.. No matter what one believes everyone can be excepted and should be free to be who they are.. 

Dan Kyle
Dan Kyle

Belief systems are from the dark ages in the 21st century the only answer to is there a god nobody knows.....but belief systems divide the human race...it is the dignity of mankind that we were not created god is an insult to our existence until everyone drops the belief systems and just searches for real answers of our existence the killing will continue...I will search for answers till the day I die believing is the easy way out far too simple for how complex we are...cars are made...shoes are made we are not made in my time I have searched and so far there is not one shred of evidence god exists...you can take the easy way out or you can be a true human being and continue to look for real answers

Owen Busse
Owen Busse

Why can't they just agree on something?

Alhaji Dauda
Alhaji Dauda

The Muslims, Christians, Pagans and any other Human on this earth, we are from the same father ADAM we are all into relation some how. Brother killing His brother!!! Astagfirullah

Sarah Leen
Sarah Leen

Thanks Pam Chen for helping pull this together for NG Daily New. And Marcus be safe.

George Britton
George Britton

-  Here is where the USA Army needs to go and fight for equal rights and freedom. Not the middle east, where all they do is kill people randomly. Poor people in Africa mus really suffer and leave with constant fear.

Anthony Twidale
Anthony Twidale

C.A.R. Needs sorting out. China needs more resources, space and now has the aircraft carriers and manpower to spare. Bit of a no-brainer really. As the worlds next super power we should be backing China in flexing its muscles and let someone else do the dirty work for once. Surely a country who can elevate its lower classes to middle class and relocate tens of millions of them to brand new cities all in the space of ten years should know a thing or two about logistical manipulation.

J. Say
J. Say

I cannot imagine how frightened these poor people are.

ahmad usman
ahmad usman

The naked truth! Who impoverished the C.A.R in alliance with France, the thief in Africa? The Dackos, Bokasas, Patasse, Bozizes, etc,- none is a Muslim!!!!!!

ahmad usman
ahmad usman

The naked truth! Who impoverished CAR in alliance with France, the thief in Africa? The Dackos, Bokasas, Patasse, Bozizes, etc,- none is a Muslim!!!!!!

ahmad usman
ahmad usman

The naked truth! Who impoverished the C.A.R in alliance with France, the thief in Africa? The Dackos, Bokasas, Patasse, Bozizes, etc,- none is a Muslim!!!!!!

Robert Warner
Robert Warner

Tolerance. Tolerance. Tolerance.  We, in the United States, for humans and corporations,  need Tolerance before we get to this.

Chudamani Akavaram
Chudamani Akavaram

The evil desire in man to dominate others is the chief reason for any violence -communal or political or social economic . It can be removed only by education or enlightenment in all those fields.

Latavia Elmore
Latavia Elmore

Painful. Just painful. There is too much suffering for both the Muslims and the Christians. It seems like it is no longer about self-defense, but retaliation after experiencing such horrific events. This is not just about religion, but it is about politics as well. It is easy to say that the Muslims and Christians are fighting, but why ignore the political agendas, economic conquests and powers at play. According to this article, tensions erupted when Seleka Rule was established. It is not just about religion; that is just the surface. It seems to be more about political power play in the name of religion. Unfortunately, religious doctrine and identifying with a particular group can be abused and misused in order to motivate people to commit atrocities against one another.

Guy Holder
Guy Holder

Western governments are too PC to help Christians in trouble. I wish them god-speed in their efforts against Islam.

Antonio De Soza
Antonio De Soza

Religion is just a powerful tool in hands of those, who make profit by people's suffering. Make violence a non-profitable issue, and it will disappear from the face of the Earth once and for all.

Chris Martin
Chris Martin

What do you do when someone attacks you? According to this article the Muslims attacked the Christians first. Nobody is coming to their aid. Where is justice? If someone attacked you then you would want justice, but when anyone is attacked you deny them help or justice. In this situation the Muslims are vicious and the Christian's are fighting back. Would you deny a person self defense? That doesn't mean all muslims or christians are vicious and we should avoid generalizations. Generalizations are what lead to the justification of genocide.

Rod House
Rod House

Both the murdered and the murderers in this story are my brothers and sisters. Both the Christians and the Muslims are my kindred. I am an atheist who finds wisdom in the words of many of those teachers who are often quoted by my fellow humans. Care "...for the least among you..." is relevant here. There are no "these people." There are not only one's "Christian brothers." There are not merely "Muslims."


This is a story of the "least among" us. This is potentially the story of our species as a whole. We will choose: either to realize that we are truly all brothers and sisters who are here on our only home planet together and act accordingly, or we will cease to exist by our own hand. This choice is ours to make, and we have little time to make it. To not come together is to make the choice. My heart is breaking.

S. Favour
S. Favour

It's a pity that this people don't know the value of life. They allowed themselves to be used by the mafian's from the world powers and their allies. They kill themselves while the thief's/inveders are landing and flying away with private jets loaded with their natural resources

jim davis
jim davis

life is cheap in the C.A.R.  these people will not stop until they are all dead.

TCP IP
TCP IP

@Dan Kyle I do not intend to debate with you about the existence of God. I would just like to point out that some of history's most atrocious acts of killing and violence have been committed in countries where religion is near non-existent. Such as Mao's cultural revolutionary China or the communist former Soviet Union. Not to mention present day North Korea where Christianity is punishable by death in a gulag.


Religion does not produce evil. Evil is propagated into the world from the heart of evil man. Evil people have a need to white wash their deeds by putting a righteous spin on it. These people are not Christians they are killers. And killers of the worst kind that use symbols of hope and redemption as the banner for their barbarism.


Jim Ronin
Jim Ronin

@Barb Borden  Pretty sure that Christianity has done equal, if not more, damage to the world than Islam. The Crusades? Christian-instigated holy war that saw to the slaughter of millions labelled as heretics. The Holocaust? The attempted genocide of  not just a religion but an entire race of people by the Nazi's, given the blessing by the Catholic (Christian) Church. Breeding control of the Australian Aboriginals, Christians who believed the people had no souls, especially those considered "milky", the children taken from their mothers at birth for being half white half Aboriginal. The attempted genocide of the Native Americans, started by colonists led by Columbus, given the blessing of the Christian church. Not to mention that thousands of "primitive" cultures that had the unfortunate luck to be discovered by Christian missionaries, and either brainwashed, "uplifted", or murdered because they were not "right" in the eyes of God. Hindus, Jews and Buddhists all have their own crimes against humanity throughout history as well as Muslims. All religious groups have caused terror, murder, war, genocide, brainwashing, control and power for the "glory of God." 


Don't even try to blame it on one group of people. Of course not everyone who follows their religions believe in these actions throughout history, in fact I chose to believe that many people today within those religions are followers because they believe in the messages of peace, love, unity and hope in their religious texts, and not because they believe they are better than others.


However, if there is a God, he probably abandoned us long ago. And who would blame him?/her?/it?


Barb Borden
Barb Borden

@Chris Martin Aren't the Muslims always the first to attack? Enough said. Glad these Christians are able to defend themselves, but it is only because there are more of them than Muslims. Otherwise, Islam will not stop until all "infidels" convert or are dead.

Anjum Khan
Anjum Khan

@Anthony Simon  Hitler was a muslim ? Britishers who ruled India for 200 years were muslims ? george bush and his army who destroyed IRAQ was muslim ? 

Gordon Chamberlain
Gordon Chamberlain

@Anthony Simon  Can you tell us about the role of Christians in slavery, and colonialism,up until 1970 + its suppression of women and GLBT people. Tell us what you understand of the great christian churches profited from those atrocities? yes there is radical Islam but radical Christians are also full of hatred. The role of the Catholic church as again been revealed to have acted with disregard for priests raping children  There there is there is the response to Christians to the threat of global climate destabilisation. The response of some was to build fleets of less fuel efficient Hummer, SUV Trucks and cars. Global climate destabilization threatens the web of life on our planet. CAR need help now where is the UN and AU 

Marianne Homan
Marianne Homan

@Anthony Simon  Your sentiments expressed here are the reason for all this violence and death. Freedom of religion is the only way. I guess you're not Christian.

Lucas Cordina
Lucas Cordina

@Anthony Simon  Let us not discriminate people based on their religions. Simply because one is muslim does not mean he or she is part of a plague. I have met many muslims, and the vast majority were friendly, tolerant of my beliefs (or lack, thereof), and returned the respect I had given them.

One of the best examples for this would be my muslim friend in Indonesia. She is one of the friendliest people I have ever come across, she and her husband and raising a beautiful child in a safe environment, and they sincerely love one another.

So, please, let's not attack our muslim neighbours with Christian elitism.

Dan Kyle
Dan Kyle

@TCP IP @Dan KyleFor such an intelligent species with limitless possibilities we can go to the extreme of .

unconsciousness hard to believe we are on the same planet


Gordon Chamberlain
Gordon Chamberlain

@Marianne Homan @Anthony Simon This freedom of religion you talk about In Afghanistan the Taliban though killing teachers and pouring acid on girls going to school is in the name of their religion. Radical Christians and Muslims should not be free in the name of their God to abuse and kill others  Then again christian Europe has done their fair share of killing one another. Glad I do not follow a religion thinking their god is the one and only one of dozens 

Sucala Andre
Sucala Andre

@Marianne Homan @Anthony Simon  freedom of all religions...i hope thats what you say. The problem here is not releigion...ignorat people are the problem. Those who let themselves manipulated. Those self proclaimed christians and muslims in africa, those who comited the atrocities, they are ignorant manipulated murderers, simple. Not a single self respecting rational christian or muslim would do all this. I pitty them. I hope this stupid frenzy will end as soon as posible, and they will be able to forgive themselves.

Jay Bird
Jay Bird

i will say it more clearly, anthony simon: after reading an article like that, how could you say such a horrifying thing? shame upon you for helping to dream these tragic atrocities.

How to Feed Our Growing Planet

  • Feed the World

    Feed the World

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

The Innovators Project

  • Teen Wonder: Taylor Wilson

    Teen Wonder: Taylor Wilson

    After achieving nuclear fusion at age 14, Taylor, now 19, is working with subatomic particles for solutions to nuclear terrorism and cancer.

See more innovators »

Phenomena

See more posts »

Latest News Video

  • How a T. Rex Packs for a Road Trip

    How a T. Rex Packs for a Road Trip

    The nation's most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen is taking a 2,000-mile road trip from Montana to its new home in Washington, D.C.

See more videos »

See Us on Google Glass

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »