Photo Essay

  • In the former residency of Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa which has been looted over and over again since 1996, young recruits, abandoned by the Séléka during their training, wait to join the regular army. A young man poses with a wooden weapon in Berengo on Jan. 26, 2014.
  • French soldiers of the Sangaris Operation are patrolling in a lane where clashes occurred the day before between French soldiers and an armed group. Four civilians have been killed and angry inhabitants shout at French soldiers in Bangui, the nation's capital on Jan. 16, 2014.
  • A man who's throat was slashed by Seleka soldiers when they were leaving the Roux military camp for another base on the outskirts of the city, is rescued by French soldiers of the Sangaris Operation in Bangui on Jan. 27, 2014.
  • Near the United Nations roundabout, a man holding grenades was arrested by the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) Forces of Burundian in Bangui on Jan. 12, 2014.
  • At the Kilometre Point 13 (PK13), inhabitants of the district, helped by anti-balaka Christian militia, have looted and burnt the entire district of Bégoua. A young man, happy about the looting, is passing in front of a burning shop owned by a Muslim shopkeeper in Bangui on Jan. 22, 2014.
  • On the tarmac of Bangui's M'Poko airport Muslims from Chad fleeing Christians are board a flight to be evacuated to Chad on Jan. 16, 2014.
  • Romain Fiongaye leaves the community hospital with his friend Fionboy, who had been shot in the head after clashes between Séléka soldiers and anti-balaka militia, in the district of Miskine in Bangui on Jan. 24, 2014.
  • After violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in Bangui, an elderly woman and her granddaughter are sought refuge at St Mathias Church in Bangui on Jan. 11, 2014.
  • View from a room of the former residency of Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa out onto the dirty swimming pool young recruits who have been abandoned by the Séléka during their training, wait to join the regular army, Berengo on Jan. 26, 2014.
  • Women cooking at the Don Bosco IDP (internally displaced person) camp in Bangui where an estimated 30,000-40,000 people are seeking refuge, Dec. 9, 2013.
  • On the road between Bangui and Sibut, ex-Séléka soldiers are coming to reinforce positions in Damara, after attacks of anti-balaka fighters on Nov. 27,  2013.
  • Chaos near the airport, people run on the street, fleeing the clashes between former-Séléka soldiers and the   anti-balaka militia who seized the capital, Bangui, Dec. 9, 2013.
  • In the Quartier Combattant in Bangui, men are looting shops owned by muslim storekeepers on Dec. 9, 2013.
  • After clashes between Christians and Muslims, a man attempts to fight off looters, in Quartier Combattant, Bangui on Dec. 9, 2013.
  • At Kilometre 12 (PK12), in Bangui, French soldiers from the Sangaris Operation are trying to control a man carrying a grenade on Dec. 9, 2013.
  • In the PK12 district, taxis are taking clients to the center of Bangui, Dec. 18, 2013.
  • Women on their way to the refugee camp at the Bangui M'Poko airport. They were forced to flee their homes during violent, escalating clashes between Christians and Muslims on Dec. 6, 2013.
  • Muslims from the village of Boali, with arrows and bows, gather in the Ould Houda mosque, Dec. 4, 2013.  Since September Christian anti-balaka militias have burned and looted the homes of Muslims displacing tens of thousands from people throughout the country.
  • On the road between Bangui and Sibut, an ex-Séléka soldier is carrying his weapon on his shoulders, Dec. 1, 2013.
  • The body of a dead man, abandoned in a cart in front of the l'hopital de I'Amitie in Bangui following clashes between ex-Séléka fighters and anti-Balaka militia on Dec. 5, 2013.
  • Relatives of civilian victims, bring the bodies to Bangui community hospital, after clashes between ex-Séléka fighters and anti-Balaka militia, who invaded the capital city, Dec. 5, 2013.
  • Bangui community hospital, a wounded man is lying on a bench, after clashes between ex-Séléka fighters and anti-Balaka militia after severe fighting throughout the capital city, Dec. 5, 2013.
  • Relatives of a Christian who was killed during clashes with the Muslim community gather at the grave in Bouali on Dec. 4, 2013.
  • At the kilometre point PK60,  Christian women and children who are running away from the fighting between Christian and Muslim communities in the region of Bouali, north of Bangui on Dec. 4, 2013.
  • A Fulani woman and her injured child at the Bangui community hospital after violent inter-ethnic clashes near Bouali. The Fulani are the largest migratory indigenous group in the world and live throughout much of western Africa. Twelve people were killed in this particular attack and many children were badly injured, Dec. 3, 2013.
  • Member of the Members of the "Mouvement de Revolte des Forces Armées Centrafricaine pour le Peuple" poses with his weapon, at a makeshift military school on the outskirts of Bangui on Dec. 15, 2013.
  • Three Fulani children, wounded in the head and hands recover at the Bangui community hospital on Dec. 3, 2013. The children were injured during violent inter-ethnic clashes near Bouali.
  • Traces of blood in the morgue of the community hospital in Bangui, after clashes between ex-Séléka fighters and anti-balaka militia on Dec. 5, 2013.
  • Women crying after going with a relative at the Bangui community hospital after clashes between ex-Séléka fighters and anti-balaka militia on Dec. 5, 2013.
  • The bodies of dead Muslims are laid in a line at the Ali Abu Aba mosque, at the Kilometre Point 5 (PK5) area in Bangui, after violent clashes between ex-Séléka fighters and anti-balaka militia in Bangui on Dec. 5, 2013.
  • Some 10,000 people, most of them Christian, took refuge near the airport of Bangui, fleeing from the clashes between the soldiers of the former-Séléka and the anti-balaka militia, Dec. 8, 2013.
  • Some 10,000 people, mostly Christian, took refuge near the airport of Bangui, fleeing from the clashes between the soldiers of the former-Séléka and the anti-balaka militia, Dec. 8, 2013.
  • Some 10,000 people, mostly Christian, took refuge near the airport of Bangui, fleeing from the clashes between the soldiers of the former-Séléka and the anti-balaka militia, Dec. 8, 2013.
  • Soldier from the Central African police force in the National Assembly in Bangui, after severe fighting between the former Séléka and the anti-balaka militia on Dec. 15, 2013.
  • Some 10,000 people, mostly Christian, took refuge near the airport of Bangui, fleeing from the clashes between the soldiers of the former-Séléka and the anti-balaka militia, Dec. 7, 2013.
  • Bodies at the morgue of Bangui community hospital where families of the victims came to identify the bodies on Dec. 5, 2013.
  • Members of a self-defense group from the village of Bandoro-Kota pose on the main road, after the fighting between former Séléka soldiers (along with Fulani nomads) on Sept. 24, 2013.
  • A member of a self-defense group from the village of Bandoro-Kota posing in front of a burnt house, after fighting with former Séléka soldiers, Sept. 24, 2013.
  • A young pregnant woman among the burnt ruins of the village's homes in Bandoro-Kota on Sept. 24, 2013.
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Central African Republic spirals into chaos

Updated

The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted Thursday to send 12,000 peacekeeping forces to the Central African Republic, a nearly Texas-sized nation just north of the equator that has spiraled into chaos after the ouster of its leader in March 2013.

The Central African Republic, a former French colony, gained independence in 1960; decades of oppressive military rule followed. Ten years of civilian government crumbled in 2003, after General François Bozizé led a military coup that resulted in his installment as president. Reelected in 2011 through a process widely viewed by the national and international communities as flawed, Bozizé struggled to exert power on the countryside, where rebel groups began to launch attacks. Those groups joined peace talks in January 2013 and gained representation in a coalition government, but it collapsed. Three months later, Muslim rebels gained power, installing Michel Djotodia as president.

In December 2013, the country erupted into civil war, with Christians charging Djotodia with failing to protect them from rape, torture, and death at the hand of his forces. His government collapsed in January amid an all-out battle between the country’s Muslims and its Christian majority.

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking at the bottom of the UN’S Human Development Index (180 out of 187). With little opportunity to go to school, create business, or otherwise earn a living, young men are being recruited to join the Muslim Séléka and the Christian Anti-Balaka forces.

The U.N. estimates that more than 2,000 people have been killed since December, and more than a quarter of the country’s five million people are in need of aid. The civil war has turned tens of thousands of them into refugees.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of a repeat of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when an estimated 800,000 people were violently murdered in the span of 100 days while the U.N. and world powers stood still.

“The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago. And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the C.A.R. today,” Ban said during a visit to the country earlier this month. 

“Atrocity crimes are being committed in this country,” he said. “Ethno-religious cleansing is a reality. Most members of the Muslim minority have fled.” Lynchings, decapitations, torture, village-burnings, and sexual violence against women and children have been reported.

The International Criminal Court began investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country in February. The Court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she is investigating “hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities.”

“In many incidents, victims appear to have been deliberately targeted on religious grounds,” she said.

Ban warned that the 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union peacekeeping forces in the country have been “overwhelmed” by a “state of anarchy.” The U.N. peacekeepers are not expected to arrive until September. 

Photographer Michaël Zumstein has been covering the growing crisis in C.A.R. since September 2013 focusing on the country’s Bossangoa region, where people who fled their villages sought refuge in makeshift camps in the town’s catholic mission, while Muslims gathered in the Liberty School. Today, almost one million people have taken refuge in the country’s schools, churches, and even the tarmac of the French Army-controlled Bangui airport. 

 

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography