Central African Republic soldiers in full uniform were caught in photographs lynching a man suspected of being a former rebel, only minutes after the interim president praised their efforts to restore order in the shattered country.
The attack happened on Wednesday, after an event meant to highlight the role that the newly reconstituted army was playing in helping tamp down on the communal violence that has taken over the country. Interim president Catherine Samba-Panza addressed the assembled forces to announce that after five months without wages, they would finally be paid soon. “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,” she said, according to the Associated Press report of the incident.
After she left, however, the soldiers noticed a man in their midst suspected of fighting for the Seleka rebel group that overthrew the government last year. After the takeover, Muslim Seleka fighters rampaged across the countryside, looting and pillaging, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes. The situation only grew worse after the Seleka were officially disbanded, leading to the rise of the anti-balaka, groups of Christian residents originally banded together to defend their homes. The anti-balaka militias are now perpetrators of atrocities in their own right, prompting warnings from the United Nations of a surge in reprisal attacks against Muslims.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Jerome Delay
But those are militias and civilians. It was professional soldiers in uniform who broke ranks soon after noticing the man, the AP reports, before turning their full ire on him. “The very men expected to protect civilians used knives, bricks and their own feet to attack the man,” they write, with peacekeepers from Burundi doing nothing to stop them even as the man lay bleeding. The crowd assembled to watch the lynching nearly attacked the lone police officer who attempted to halt the proceedings; that man was only just barely extracted from senior officers. The crowd then dragged the body of the now dead man through the streets before setting it ablaze.
The AP photographer on the scene later described the scene to TIME in a note. “Today I met the Devil,” he wrote. “In a scene Quentin Tarantino would not have dreamed scripting, I saw a man killed. Butchered. By his fellow countrymen. His mistake was to be named Idris and to be Muslim. What was first an orderly cheering crowd happy to hear they were finally going to get paid, turned in an instant into a tilde wave of barbarism.The VIPs had barely left. We have reached the point of no return in sectarian violence.”
“A man just walked up with the severed leg of the lynching victim, just walking around,” Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert, who was on the scene, tweeted. French soldiers forced the man to put the leg down, Bouckaert said, before a FACA soldier threw a grenade at a suspected ex-Seleka member’s truck. Members of the Red Cross eventually came to retrieve the victim’s body. More graphic photographs of the incident can be viewed on Bouckaert’s Twitter feed.
Efforts from nearly 6,500 troops from the African Union and France to stabilize the country have yet to prove successful. The European Union has said it is willing to provide another 600 troops to help protect civilians, of whom more than 200,000 are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. French ambassador to the United Nations Gerad Araud last week told reporters that as many as 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers may be necessary to bring peace to the Central African Republic, an unlikely prospect at this point.