African Union (AU) peacekeepers have uncovered a mass grave at a military camp occupied by Seleka rebels in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).
The find came a day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday there was “a distinct risk” the CAR could end up divided as a result of sectarian violence and called for an international force to combat escalating atrocities.
The discovery is the latest chapter of violence to grip the former French colony since March, when the mainly Muslim rebels seized power.
Their campaign of rape, torture and executions against the majority Christian population triggered inter-religious violence which has displaced a million people, the Reuters news agency said.
International pressure that saw Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resign last month. That in turn has been followed by Christian militia attacks on Muslims.
A Reuters witness saw at least a dozen decomposed bodies at the military camp in the 200 Villas neighbourhood of Bangui, where Seleka fighters have been stationed for several months.
The bodies had been stuffed into a large underground chamber, possibly a septic tank, Reuters reported.
Pastor Antoine Mboa Bogo, head of the local Red Cross, confirmed the existence of the grave and said his staff would return to the camp on Thursday to determine the number of dead.
It is not known who committed the killings.
‘De facto partition’
Ban raised the possibility of the country being divided into Christian and Muslim regions for the first time late on Tuesday and said the global response was not matching the gravity of the situtation, the Associated Press news agency reported.
|We cannot just continue to say ‘never again’. This, we have said so many times. We must act concertedly and now to avoid continued atrocities on a massive scale,UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon|
“Both Muslims and Christians have been murdered and forced to flee their homes,” Ban said. “The sectarian brutality is changing the country’s demography. The de facto partition of the CAR is a distinct risk.”
He urged the international community to support an African Union force and said that other nations should contribute troops to help stabilise the country.
“We cannot just continue to say ‘never again’. This, we have said so many times,” Ban said. “We must act concertedly and now to avoid continued atrocities on a massive scale.”
More than 1,000 people have been killed and nearly one million forced from their homes in CAR since December in violence pitting Christians and Muslims against each other.
Warning the situation was worsening, Ban announced he was sending Edmond Mulet, assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, to the country to consult with the African Union about transforming its force there into a UN peacekeeping contingent.
Activists in CAR have long called for a UN force, believing that it will be better-equipped and include a police contingent that could help better secure the capital Bangui.
Fleeing the capital
Ban also called on the European Union to accelerate the deployment of a promised military operation, and said he spoke to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and asked him to consider sending more troops.
France has sent 1,600 soldiers to its former colony to bolster the nearly 6,000 peacekeepers from African nations.
The EU mission, expected to be made up of 500 to 600 troops, will be deployed to guard the airport in Bangui, where 100,000 people have taken refuge.
Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled Bangui in recent months.