At least 5,186 people have died in Central African Republic since fighting between Muslims and Christians started in December, according to an Associated Press tally gleaned from more than 50 of the hardest-hit communities and the capital, Bangui. That’s well more than double the death toll of about 2,000 cited by the United Nations back in April, when it approved a peacekeeping mission. The deaths have mounted steadily since, with no official record.
As the U.N. prepares to go into the Central African Republic next week, the death toll underscores how the aid is coming too late for thousands of victims. The about 2,000 extra troops to boost African forces fall short of the almost 7,000 authorized in April, with the rest expected by early 2015. Yet the conflict has turned out to be far more deadly than it was then, and warnings of potential mass carnage from former colonizer France and from the U.N. itself have gone unheeded.
“The international community said it wanted to put a stop to the genocide that was in the making. But months later, the war has not stopped, ” says Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African Human Rights League, who collects handwritten testimonies from relatives stapled together with photos of their slain loved ones.
“On the contrary, it has gotten worse. Today, towns that were not under severe threat back in April have become the sites of true disasters.”
Both life and death often go unrecorded in Central African Republic, a country of about 4.6 million that has long teetered on the edge of anarchy. Nobody knows just how many people have died in the grinding ethnic violence, and even the AP tally is almost certainly a fraction of the real toll.
The AP counted bodies and gathered numbers from dozens of survivors, priests, imams, human rights groups and local Red Cross workers, including those in a vast, remote swath of the west that makes up a third of the country. Many deaths here were not officially counted because the region is still dangerous and can barely be reached in torrential rains. Others were left out by overwhelmed aid workers but registered at mosques and at private Christian funerals.
The U.N. is not recording civilian deaths on its own, unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, for example. And it took months to gather troops from different countries for the mission, which will take over from regional peacekeeping forces on Sept. 15, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general.
This report is compiled with inputs from The Associated Press.