Witch burning rebels stoke Central African Republic violence

An anti-Balaka soldier holds a handmade gun as former child soldiers wait to be released in Bambari

An anti-Balaka soldier holds a handmade gun as former child soldiers wait to be released in Bambari, Central African Republic, May 14, 2015. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

Source: Reuters

BANGUI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rebels in Central African Republic have kidnapped, burnt and buried alive “witches” in public ceremonies, exploiting widely held superstitions to control areas in the war-torn country, according to a leaked United Nations report.

The report by U.N. human rights officers, seen exclusively by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, contains graphic photographs of victims tied to wooden stakes being lowered towards a fire as well as the charred torsos of those subjected to the ritual.

The torture took place between December 2014 and early 2015 under instruction from leaders of the mainly Christian “anti-balaka” militia that has been fighting Muslim Seleka rebels across the country for more than two years, said the report.

Central African Republic was plunged into sectarian violence when Muslim rebels briefly seized power in the largely Christian country in March 2013, with escalating violence on both sides creating lawlessness nationwide outside the capital Bangui.

Internationally-backed presidential and parliamentary elections are due to be held on Dec. 27 after repeated delays to replace a transitional government but there are widespread concerns of more bloodshed in the run-up.

While belief in witchcraft is common throughout Africa, U.N. researchers said it appeared Christian rebels had used these superstitions to intimidate, extort money and exert authority over lawless areas.

“Sorcery is firmly entrenched in (Central African Republic) and … the absence of state authority creates a breeding ground for a sort of popular justice twisted by anti-balakas to its benefit,” said the researchers.

The report, produced by a team working for the U.N.’s stabilisation mission known as MINUSCA, said 13 attacks against victims aged between 45 and 70 are said to have taken place near Baoro in Nana-Mambere, one of 14 prefectures in the country.


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