Since February 1, nearly 1,000 people, most of them Muslim, have been trapped, surrounded, and threatened by armed militias known as anti-balakas in Carnot, southwestern Central African Republic (CAR). Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working in Carnot since 2010 and has been a direct witness to the violence and abuses against the city’s displaced Muslim populations, whom MSF is assisting.
Muslim communities in many towns in western CAR have been attacked in recent weeks. Fearful of experiencing similar attacks, the vast majority of Carnot’s Muslim population has fled. At the same time, many of the nomadic Fulani ethnic group, who are also primarily Muslim, have stopped off at Carnot, which is along the road leading towards Cameroon.
Members of the Seleka rebel army have abandoned the town and the anti-balakas are firmly in control. Tensions continue to rise. The parish priest has been threatened several times. Kidnappings for ransom have taken place. Armed men have announced that they intend to track down and kill all the city’s Muslims.
Anyone who hides Muslims is also at risk. On February 7, an anti-Balaka group entered a house where 86 displaced Muslim men, women, and children were being hidden. Seven men were executed and three people were struck with a machete, including a 12-year-old child. After nearly two hours of very tense negotiations, MSF was able to gather the wounded and those requiring immediate medical care.
On several occasions, armed men entered the grounds of the city hospital where MSF is working, either in an attempt to kill patients—specifically Fulani patients—or to attack displaced people living there. The hospital teams had to intervene each time.
On February 9, as MSF was organizing the air transfer of several severely wounded patients, anti-balaka forces seized the landing strip, preventing all landings and take-offs. Under the terms of a new round of negotiations, MSF was able to free the runway, but because one patient's security could still not be guaranteed on the way to the airport, only two patients could be transferred to CAR's capital city of Bangui for further treatment.
The Cameroonian unit of the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) in Carnot is not large enough to be deployed throughout the city, so it now gathers displaced persons at the parish site that is under its protection. The number of people from Carnot and the surrounding areas who have taken refuge there, including growing numbers of Christians, continues to increase. MSF is providing assistance to these displaced persons, including primary care, food, and construction of latrines and showers.
Between January 21 and February 1, the city’s hospital, which is supported by MSF, treated 34 people with bullet wounds from the region. Between February 1 and February 8, 35 people were treated and more than 18 deaths were recorded.