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Muslims Flee CAR Capital, Chased By Christian Jeers


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is beginning an investigation of possible war crimes in Central African Republican and we're going to check in now on the latest state of horrific sectarian violence in that country. Thousands of Muslims filled an enormous convoy of vehicles today fleeing the capital city of Bangui.

Muslims are the targets of revenge attacks by Christian mobs. Jerome Delay is chief Africa photographer with the Associated Press. He is in the capital and was covering that exodus today. And Jerome, describe what you saw today.

JEROME DELAY: Well, this morning, I got a phone call from my driver fairly early, it was around 7:00 and said, I'm picking you up now because we've got to go to PK-12. PK-12 refers to the point kilometre 12, which is exactly 12 kilometers from the presidential palace. And he told me that the Muslims were fleeing in masses. Once we got there, it was a scene that reminded me of Kosovo when the Kosovo were exiting into Albania, being pushed by the Serbs.

We had, I would say, 10,000 people, thousands and thousands of people. We had people on motorcycles, people by foot sometimes because trucks would break down, people in pickups with all their belongings being escorted by Chadian special forces. It was quite a scene of - I don't want to say apocalyptic because it seemed to be fairly orderly.

You could really see fear in the people fleeing. Children, women, men, people who have lived here for years, most of them, and just don't really have any place to go. Their only mistake was just their first name and, you know, their religion.

BLOCK: And Jerome, you said they were guarded by soldiers from Chad, that's the neighboring country and presumably that's where these Muslims are now headed.

DELAY: That is correct. These people who actually have, most of them have never been to Chad are heading to Chad. The president of Chad actually had also dispatched some Chadian special forces to ensure the security of the convoy along the long and dangerous route into Chad, where I don't know what's going to happen to these people there.

BLOCK: There were horrifying images today of a Muslim man who fell off of one of these trucks crammed with people trying to flee. He fell off, was mutilated and killed by a mob. What have you heard about what happened there?

DELAY: Well, what happened is very simple. It happens every day in Bangui, unfortunately. Apparently, the trucks are loaded so tall and so high, an eyewitness told me that he actually got trapped into an electrical wire, that's what caused him to fall from the truck and the crowd just went crazy over him.

And that crowd, they're merchants. They're people who just, you know, have shops on the side of the road, but they just have a zero tolerance for the others, for the Muslims.

BLOCK: You're saying mob justice is pretty much a daily occurrence in the time that you've been there.

DELAY: Exactly. This is a scene that is not uncommon in Bangui, unfortunately. There hasn't been a day where I have not seen somebody being mutilated, I mean, in the most vicious, the most barbaric way. And, I mean, in one way I understand people are angry, but what really surprises me is that people are killing their own neighbors. People are killing their friends, sometimes. This country used to be, you know, very tolerant.

BLOCK: Right now, it's the Muslims who've been the targets of these attacks, but not so long ago, it was the Muslim fighters attacking the majority Christian population of Central African Republic. How do you see this all playing out in the end? I mean, are you going to be left with a capital in which there are no Muslims at some point?

DELAY: It is a cliche. I would say, you know, may the last Muslim that leaves town turn off the light to the Grand Mosque. But the level of intolerance is so high that I think for every day of violence that we're having here it's going to take a year to go back one notch. So you just do the math. I'm very, very pessimistic.

BLOCK: Jerome Delay, chief Africa photographer for the Associated Press, we reached him in Bangui, capital of Central African Republic. Jerome, thank you.

DELAY: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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