Troops Escort Muslims Out Of Central African Republic : Parallels Christians who had been attacked by Muslim rebels are now carrying out a campaign of revenge that the United Nations says is "ethno-religious cleansing." Tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing.

Troops Escort Muslims Out Of Central African Republic

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene, good morning.

The conflict in the Central African Republic has taken a new violent turn. Christians who had been attacked by Muslim rebels are now carrying out a campaign of revenge that the United Nations says amounts to ethno-religious cleansing. Tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing. Yesterday, African forces provided a military escort to hundreds of people on a slow convoy towards the western border with Cameroon.

NPR's Gregory Warner met them midway in a town of Bauer.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Amadou Gambo has packed a giant truck with 40 of his relatives and the remnants of his looted shop. And he's parked outside the mosque in Bouar, waiting for the French and African troops to arrive so he too can drive over the border to Cameroon.

AMADOU GAMBO: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: He feels bad leaving his country, he says. But when the longed for phone call comes, Amadou starts his truck and pulls into position behind a French gunship. It's a little over a hundred miles to the border and the first time Amadou has ever left this town of Bouar, where he was born. Yet on the side of the road a mob of Christians jeers: Get out, foreigners.

The man in a black T-shirt next to a music kiosk introduces himself to me as Dali Zuisse Bab, The Savior. He says if not for the international troops here, he'd kill Amadou and every last one of them and he tells me the reason why.

DALI ZUISSE BAB: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: He says he was a shop keeper until last spring when a coalition of rebels, called the Seleka, from the mostly Muslim north - joined by mercenaries from Islamic countries Chad and Sudan - deposed the president and imposed a reign of terror against the people. Zuisse says they killed his mother, his grandmother, his sister and his youngest son.

BAB: (Foreign language spoken)

ALEXANDER: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: You have a gun wound from the Seleka?

ALEXANDER: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: Zuisse's friend, Alexander, wearing an Eminem T-shirt, pulls down his pants in the street to show me his bullet wound.

Ah, you were shot. Okay, so you're showing me that you were shot through the thigh by the Seleka. You're also Anti-balaka?

ALEXANDER: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: So Zuisse and Alexander joined a gang called Anti-balaka. That means anti-machete in the local language. A Christian revenge militia, bent on driving out Muslims, their campaign is also fueled by economic resentment of the Muslim minority that make up most of the merchant class. The majority Christian Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world, which Zuisse blames on a Muslim magic called Ya Sin.

BAB: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: Even while demanding a Muslim expulsion, the Christian militias have blocked Muslims from escaping. Just yesterday, a convoy like this one, led by African peacekeepers, was attacked on the road. At least two people were killed. The French military is increasing its force by another 400 troops, bringing the total to 2,000.

Today, the anxious procession continues of Muslim trucks and vans, roofs piled with mattresses, bicycles and furniture, sandwiched between military trucks hoping to get them out of the country safely.

Patrick Dial, a Christian, stands in the doorway of his shop watching.

PATRICK DIAL: (Through translator) I don't know what will happen in the future. I can't define it. We used to live together.

WARNER: But as a crowd gathers, a crowed including The Savior and other Christian militants, Dial's language turns more xenophobic, his grammar more crude.

DIAL: (Through translator) Their absence won't matter. We can solve our problems for ourselves. We can build our country with our own efforts. We see in countries where there aren't any Muslims the Christians make progress.

WARNER: What the world has decried as ethno-religious cleansing is framed here as economic empowerment. Young men calling themselves Anti-balaka invoke the spirit of Robin Hood when they loot Muslim houses and shops. It's a message that's found takers in a country that's had so little for so long.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Bouar, Central African Republic.

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