BANGUI: The U.S. envoy to the United Nations was in Central African Republic Thursday to urge political and religious leaders to end brutal violence, warning the people were “in profound danger.”
Samantha Power is the highest-level U.S. official to visit the CAR, which has plunged into anarchy with sectarian violence that has killed hundreds of people.
Power, who was a journalist and vocal human rights activist before joining the U.S. administration, said American leaders were “deeply disturbed” by the atrocities which have forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes.
“The people in Central African Republic are in profound danger, and we all have a responsibility which we must meet to help them move away from the abyss,” Power said Wednesday.
The CAR spiralled into chaos after a March coup in which the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew President Francois Bozize.
Rebel leader Michel Djotodia was installed as the first Muslim leader of the majority Christian nation and disbanded the Seleka, but many rebels went rogue, spreading terror.
Months of brutal massacres, rapes and looting have followed, with locals forming Christian vigilante groups in response to the atrocities. Top U.S. officials have already warned the CAR is in a “pregenocidal” phase.
Amnesty International reported Thursday that 1,000 people were killed in Bangui two weeks ago by ex-Seleka rebels in a two-day spasm of violence after Christian militias went door-to-door and killed about 60 Muslims.
During her eight-hour stay accompanied by Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Power met Djotodia and other politicians.
“Those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable. That is a very important element of preventing future violence and cycles of violence,” Power said at the end of her trip.
Both women visited a community hospital where victims of sectarian violence were being cared for. They also met aid workers as well as the top Catholic and Muslim leaders.
Power wanted local leaders to back a U.N.-mandated African stabilization force known as MISCA while it disarms militias and to “explore every avenue to ensure proper and full implementation” of a road map toward elections in 2015.
In a ceremony Thursday, command of the regional African force passed from the Economic Community of Central African States to the African Union.
France has said that other European countries would contribute soldiers but while Washington has no plans to have boots on the ground, it has pledged some $100 million to support MISCA, which is due to swell to about 6,000 troops.
“President [Barack] Obama asked me to travel to CAR to show the people of CAR that America cares about what is going on,” Power said.
MISCA’s chief, Congolese General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, issued a warning to people who take part in sectarian strife, noting that it “leads inevitably to suffering and division.”
“Those who persist in this attitude will run up against resolutions of the U.N. Security Council, which ... are very clear,” mandating disarmament, he said.
“It’s obvious urgent action is required to save lives,” Power said, adding the situation was “desperate, and both extremely dynamic and volatile.”
Power was speaking on a conference call from Abuja, where she stopped for talks with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, in part focusing on how Nigeria can help French and AU forces in CAR.
In 2002, Power wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell: America and The Age of Genocide,” lambasting U.S. governments for failing miserably in their response to genocides such as Rwanda.
A senior U.S. administration official voiced concerns about Djotodia, saying he did not “have a grip on the situation outside of Bangui.”
The U.S. has also been working with local radio stations to try to calm tensions by asking them to broadcast messages from both Muslim and Christian leaders, as well a special message from Obama this month.
“Hate radio played a deadly role in Rwanda two decades ago, and it is our hope that in CAR we create the opposite model, a model of radio fostering calm, countering false rumors, and building understanding,” the official added.