Rwandan peacekeepers arrive in volatile Central African Republic
In this Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 file photo, a member of an armed neighborhood defense squad, which residents say is not anti-balaka, but local Christian residents protecting themselves, carries a machete as he walks near a roadblock in Bangui, Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
Hippolyte Marboua, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, January 16, 2014 11:51AM EST
BANGUI -- Dozens of peacekeepers from Rwanda landed Thursday in Central African Republic, where waves of retaliatory violence between Christians and Muslims have left more than 1,000 people dead.
About 44 Rwandan soldiers had arrived by midday and another 33 were expected later, Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Karangoua said.
Rwanda has pledged more than 800 peacekeepers toward the African mission working to stabilize Central African Republic as it teeters on the brink of anarchy.
The aid from the Rwandans is particularly significant, because the international community has said it wants to prevent Central African Republic from becoming a repeat of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when more than 500,000 people were killed.
"That's not to say that only the Rwandans who have experienced genocide in their country are responsible for stopping the slaughter in Central African Republic," said Col. Leon Ndong-Ntutume, a spokesman for the African peacekeeping mission known as MISCA that has about 4,400 troops.
"We're all working to stop genocide from happening in CAR and to calm the country."
Former colonizer France sent 1,600 troops last month in an effort to help secure the country until an African-led mission was at full strength.
Muslim rebels from the distant north united to overthrow the president, who was in office for a decade, in March and later were blamed for wide-scale abuses against the country's Christian majority.
An armed Christian movement known as the anti-balaka arose in opposition to the new leadership, and the Christian militiamen launched an attempted coup in early December. Violence exploded in the capital, and more than 1,000 people died in the days that followed. Some victims were stoned to death in the streets by angry mobs who accused them of working with the rebel government.
Michel Djotodia, who was installed as president after the March coup, stepped down from power last week amid mounting international criticism over his government's failure to rein in the violence.
A national transitional council is meeting this week in Bangui to select an interim leader who will guide the country toward elections before year-end. Critics, though, already say that timetable is not feasible given that so many administrative buildings were looted and records destroyed during the past year.
Associated Press writer Geoffrey Bata contributed to this report.