Some 5,000 civilians in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) have fled ex-rebel fighters and occupied the main airport in the capital, Bangui, reports the BBC. The civilians, who are mainly residents of the Boeing quarter next to Bangui’s international airport, began to flee their homes on Tuesday night after former rebels began shooting, reports the Guardian. They occupied the airport tarmac for about 18 hours, preventing some flights from landing, before being dispersed by peacekeeping troops with water cannons and teargas on Thursday, the Guardian added.
The mineral-rich C.A.R. has descended into chaos since Seleka – a coalition of five rebel groups that supposedly came together to address human rights abuses and poverty in the northeastern part of the country – toppled former President Francois Bozize in March and installed a new leader, Michel Djotodia. Since then, a wave of violence has been unleashed as Seleka has repeatedly raided rural villages and Bangui neighborhoods under the pretext of searching for weapons and armed Bozize loyalists, Reuters reports.
Boeing residents said that what started as an evacuation from their homes, in response to the shooting, has turned into a protest against lawlessness. “Our presence here at the airport has one goal: to get the world’s attention. Because we are fed up with these Seleka,” one resident, Antoine Gazama, told Reuters.
The U.N.’s refugee agency has said that arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, armed robberies, lootings and attacks against civilians have displaced thousands of people over the past 10 days. On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande called on the U.N. Security Council and the African Union to stabilize the situation in C.A.R., warning that the country was at risk of following in the footsteps of Somalia, which suffered two decades of civil war and lawlessness after the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991.
Amy Martin, a U.N. official, told the BBC that those who had fled their homes were now trapped between the peacekeepers and the Seleka fighters. “Seleka need to be removed or leave those neighborhoods so people can go back home,” she said.