The door is unhinged, the rooms are bare, signs of that afternoon when Christian vigilantes arrived at Henriette Oumpo’s mud-brick house to murder her husband.
“They broke down the door,” she recalled, her face etched with grief, “and they began searching for him.”
Her husband, who is a Muslim, escaped through a back window. Clutching knives, the fighters looted their possessions. Then, they prepared to kill Oumpo, 60, and burn the house down. But some neighbors intervened and informed the fighters that she was a Christian by birth. So they spared her life — on one condition.
“Renounce Islam,” one of her attackers said as they left. “Or else we will return and kill you for marrying a Muslim.”
Marriages between Christians and Muslims have survived the chaotic upheavals that the Central African Republic has endured since gaining independence from former colonial power France in 1960. But the latest cataclysm is shattering these mixed unions, dividing families and communities. U.N. officials and aid workers are concerned that the brutality and vengeance could permanently destroy the relationships between Christians and Muslims.
“They will get lots of pressure from one side or the other, ‘this is not the group to marry with, this is not the group to go with,’ ” said Aboud Dieng, the top U.N. humanitarian official for the Central African Republic. “Many families will fall apart.”
Today, Oumpo’s husband, Idriss Alaas Muhamed, lives in a bleak enclave of charred and looted shops and houses called PK5. It’s one of the last remaining Muslim areas in a capital paralyzed by sectarian hatred and violence.
Their 11 children, ages 22 to 40, have also fled their homes. One son was killed by a Christian mob as he walked to work in mid-January.
“I have lived in this place for 40 years, and all my children were born here,” said Muhamed, 67, perched on a bench across from a mosque compound crowded with refugees. “I never expected this. None of us did.”
The attacks that have killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands began with a coup one year ago. As Muslims seized power for the first time in this majority Christian nation last March, they brutally targeted Christians. In response, Christian militias rose up and targeted Muslims enclaves. Their assaults intensified after the country’s first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia, resigned in January under pressure from regional leaders.
Shadowed by fear, tens of thousands of Muslims have fled the country. Entire Muslim neighborhoods have emptied out, homes torched, bodies set afire in streets. As the exodus continues, more mixed families are likely to be shattered, U.N. officials and aid workers say.
SOURCE: Sudarsan Raghavan
The Washington Post