BANGUI, Central African Republic — In a shocking display of violence that underscores the anarchy in Central African Republic, soldiers and recruits killed a suspected rebel Wednesday with knives and concrete blocks just moments after the president and other VIPs left the area.
A police officer jumped out of his truck to try to halt the gruesome attack and was accosted by the crowd and accused of being a traitor. Senior officers managed to extract him from the mob and sped away with him in their pickup.
The soldiers dragged the mutilated corpse through the streets. The attack happened despite the presence of French and African peacekeepers who are trying to stabilize the country as its own army is rebuilt and shows that members of the army itself are a problem.
Moments after interim President Catherine Samba-Panza addressed a crowd of soldiers, saying how proud she was of them, troops in uniform ganged up on a man they suspected of belonging to the Seleka rebellion that overthrew the government last March. After the first stab, Burundian troops surrounded the wounded man in an attempt to protect him from the growing crowd. As the crowd moved closer, the soldiers simply withdrew, not even firing warning shots that might have dispersed the mob. The mob then went in for the kill. The soldiers pulled out knives and began stabbing the man while others kicked him in the face. Others pelted him with concrete blocks as the crowd cheered.
The coup ushered in months of chaos and bitter hatred toward the mostly Muslim rebels and has left anyone accused of collaborating with them vulnerable to attack.
"I will kill him with my own hands," shouted one man who had come to enlist in the national army.
The rebels' 10-month rule was marked by human rights abuses, and ended when their president resigned. Resentment has translated into attacks on Muslim civilians. More than 1,000 people died in just a few days in December, an untold number have been killed in the weeks that followed.
The violence is unprecedented in a country with little history of inter-communal conflict. The rage unleashed Wednesday is sure to raise concerns about the national army's ability to protect all citizens amid the divide between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority.
Wednesday's gathering was intended to highlight the rebuilding of the national army as a force that could one day take over security from international peacekeepers.
"I would like to renew my pride in those elements of FACA (Armed Forces of Central African Republic) who are here and to ask them to support my actions wherever they are," the interim president had told the soldiers.