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Report details massacres in Central African Republic

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The men came to the village in the Central African Republic at dawn, armed with Kalashnikovs, machetes and knives. A 55-year-old father of 10 hid in tall grass and watched in horror as the attackers handed his children and a grandchild to one of their own.

One by one, he cut the children’s throats and tossed the bodies to the ground.

“After the children, they killed my wives, and then more people, people they had caught in the neighborhood,” the Muslim from Bodora said as he recounted the Sept. 6 attack to interviewers from Human Rights Watch. “There were bodies everywhere. They left them there.”

The massacre in Bodora and other attacks are detailed in a Human Rights Watch report released Thursday titled “They Came to Kill,” which documents more than 157 slayings of civilians as sectarian violence has swept through the country in recent months.

The report came as Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, arrived in Bangui, the capital, to seek ways to end the violence and press the country’s transitional president to not add ruthless militia fighters to the nation’s military forces.

Power, who made her name as an anti-genocide crusader, told reporters that U.S. officials “are deeply concerned at the suffering of recent weeks” and that “those responsible for atrocities will be held responsible.”

The current turmoil began when mostly Muslim members of the Seleka rebel alliance ousted President Francois Bozize in March and installed Michel Djotodia in his place. Djotodia is the first Islamic leader in the Central African Republic, where 80 percent of the nation’s nearly 5 million people are Christians and 15 percent are Muslims.

Djotodia disbanded Seleka in September, integrating the rebels into the army. However, bands of former Seleka fighters continued to mount attacks on Christian villages in the north. Christian militias known as the anti-balaka — “anti-machete” — sprang up in recent months and unleashed revenge attacks against Muslims.

The death toll from the violence is not known, Human Rights Watch said, because many areas are too isolated to reach. But Amnesty International reported Wednesday that in Bangui on Dec. 5-6, anti-balaka forces went from house to house and killed about 60 Muslim men. Former Seleka fighters retaliated by massacring about 1,000 people during that two-day period, Amnesty said.

It said that despite the presence of French and African troops deployed to protect civilians, people were being killed daily, shot or slashed with machetes or stoned by mobs. At least 90 people have been killed since Dec. 8, the report says.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported widespread crimes against humanity and called for the deployment of more international peacekeepers to protect civilians. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended the deployment of 6,000 to 9,000 peacekeepers.

An African-led support mission is to be expanded to 6,000 troops by year’s end, and 1,600 French troops have been deployed. Amnesty International said that although the French and African forces had not stopped the violence, they may have prevented more widespread atrocities.

Though the Obama administration has committed to a policy of “never again” allowing genocide such as the one that occurred in Rwanda in the mid-1990s, it also needs to limit the costs of peacemaking, especially in countries such as the Central African Republic where it has no strategic interests.

As a result, the United States has so far offered humanitarian aid and logistics support to French and African troops but has ruled out military intervention and balked at the idea of an expensive U.N. force.

Power, an advocate within the administration for a greater effort, spoke with reporters Wednesday in a conference call from Nigeria of the need to avoid the type of massacres that occurred in Rwanda and Somalia. But she was also careful to limit how far she was committing her government.

“We all have a responsibility to help them move away from the abyss,” she said. But most of the burden must be carried by the country itself, which “really must, itself, step up.”

Power’s most important meeting was with Djotodia, who has been a worry to Western officials because of reports that he has added thousands of militiamen to national security forces in an apparent effort to consolidate his power.

“The disarmament of armed groups is critical,” Power said. “Only with this disarmament do we think that this violence can come to an end.”

The Human Rights Watch report focuses on violence outside the capital in the north. More than 450,000 people have fled their houses and are sheltering in the bush. Hundreds of villages have been burned to the ground.

A 32-year-old nurse from the village of Ndjo said he was trying to tend to those in hiding, but all he had was the medical kit he grabbed from his clinic before he fled. Former Seleka rebels had looted the clinic. The kit contained a single bandage and a few tools.

He said many people living in the bush had died of malaria, including his sister, Delphine Yamini, 37.

“My sister died just 48 hours ago,” he said. “She had a bad case of malaria, and anemia. There was nothing I could do.

“We live and die like animals here.”

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(Dixon reported from Johannesburg and Richter from Washington.)

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©2013 Tribune Co.

Visit Tribune Co. at www.latimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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