'Unspeakable catastrophe' seen in Africa


UN refugee boss shocked by barbarity and inhumanity in violence-torn republic.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visits the CAR. Picture / AP
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visits the CAR. Picture / AP

The head of the United Nations' refugee agency says he has witnessed "a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions" during his visit to the Central African Republic.

"Massive ethno-religious cleansing is continuing. Shocking barbarity, brutality and inhumanity have characterised this violence," said Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

He also said the country's new Government is incapable of effectively protecting its citizens.

His statement clashed awkwardly with a speech yesterday by the CAR's new transitional President, Catherine Samba Panza, who vowed war against a mostly Christian anti-balaka militia whose recent attacks have led to a mass exodus of Muslims.

"We are going to go to war against the anti-balaka," she told a crowd in the town of Mbaiki, south of the capital, Bangui.

"They think that because I'm a woman, I'm weak. But now the anti-balaka who want to kill, will themselves be hunted," she said.

The anti-balaka emerged last year after a mostly Muslim rebel group seized control of the country. They have gone on the rampage in Bangui and elsewhere, largely targeting Muslims, since the rebels were ousted from power last month.

Samba Panza was joined on stage by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. France has grown increasingly strident in its calls for action against the anti-balaka, fearing violence could lead to partition.

But the UN refugee agency said much would be needed to stem the attacks, and spoke of "dramatic underfunding" of relief operations.

"The international community must come together for a significant and immediate increase of the forces and police on the ground," said Guterres. "Our resources are overwhelmed and ability to do more hampered. The Central African Republic is falling through the cracks of international attention. This cannot be allowed to happen."

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