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Reversal Of Fortune In CAR Has Muslims Fleeing For Their Lives


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

The Central African Republic is a country in chaos. Muslim rebels seized power last year and then lost it as Christian militias have fought back. And the war rages on. France and other countries have sent peacekeeping troops to the CAR. And today, Muslims are being evacuated under the protection of those international troops.

NPR's Gregory Warner is in the Central African Republic. He joins us now on the line. Greg, where are you and what are you seeing?

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Rachel, I'm in the town of Bouar. It's one of the larger towns in Central African Republic, about 100 miles from the Cameroon border. And what we're witnessing is, as you said, the exodus of the Muslim minority, or many of them. It's a ragtag sort of profession. People are - I'll tell you what I'm looking at. Right now, tractor trailers are passing by, but I'd say without the tractor part - it's just the trailer. And people are just on top of that. Some of them have a lot of their goods, but some of it just people. In fact, the group that just passed is just about 60, looks like mostly children.

People are taking their vans, their taxis, they're loading it with all of their stuff. And then every few cars or so, there's either a tank or an army convoy, which is usually the African peacekeepers or the French troops, in their guardian.

MARTIN: How did this whole come about, Greg, and why now?

WARNER: Well, look. I mean this whole event happened in nearly in two stages. And, as you've said, it was first not the Muslims but the Christians that were the victims when there was a coup in March of 2013, by a group of rebels called the Seleka; Muslim-led, joined by many Chadian mercenaries. They deposed the president and many people say institute a reign of terror against the Christian majority. And groups of Christian militias started forming to fight back against them. They were joined by French peacekeeping troops.

When Muslim fighters were sent back, the Muslim civilians were then under attack. And they've been pinned down, really for the past several weeks; pinned down in churches, pinned down in mosques, protected only by a few peacekeepers. And, really, if they leave that circle of safety, they're hacked to death. So this evacuation is happening for their own safety. The Muslims have been saying we need to leave this country at least temporarily until the peace returns.

MARTIN: So what kind of protection are the peacekeepers providing? And what are the risks along the route to Cameroon?

WARNER: The protection is quite massive. The French military which numbers around 1,600 has now increased. There are two - there are now three battalions. The African peacekeepers are here in force. And you can see, I mean there are a number of Christian militiamen who are watching this convoy. One of them I was just talking to; he showed me a bullet wound that he had in his leg. But he said, no, he's not going to do anything against this group because the Africans are here because the French are here, but if they weren't here those Muslims could not move because this is a Christian country. That's what he told me. But he said he's happy to see them go. They're going to go peacefully only because of the peacekeepers that are here.

MARTIN: If these thousands of people are moved to safety, then what, Greg? What other efforts are being made to end the fighting there?

WARNER: Yeah. Well, I think it really just depends on that Christian militia guy that I just told you about, you know, what's he going to do now? Not all the Muslims are leaving. Of course some of them have elected to stay, so how is their safety going to be secured? But then, imagine all the Muslims who'd leave this country. Muslims are the main traders; they're the main merchants here. How is the economy going to survive? And we've also heard reports that those Christian militias are now turning on people they call Muslim sympathizers, who are often just Christians with money, who can be easy targets in the climate of lawlessness that's really taken over this country the past year.

MARTIN: NPR's Gregory Warner in the city of Bouar in the Central African Republic. Thanks so much, Greg.

WARNER: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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