A majority of Muslims have been forced out of the western region of Central African Republic, and those who remain "are under permanent threat," warned U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.
"Since early December we have effectively witnessed a 'cleansing' of the majority of the Muslim population in western CAR," he stated.
Conflict between mostly Muslim Seleka rebels in the north, who seized power last year, and the Christian "anti-balaka" militia in the CAR., has displaced nearly 1 million people, killed thousands, and resulted in brutal attacks and dangerous living conditions. Deadly violence has increased since late last year, when the "anti-balaka" began waging reprisal attacks on suspected Muslims.
Yet experts caution that the seemingly sectarian nature of the fighting has roots in colonialism, global inequalities, resource extraction, and conflicts sweeping the region.
France ruled "essentially by pitting one ethnicity against the other," explained Emira Woods in an interview with Real News last month. "So there is a legacy of colonial powers extracting resources and really making sure that those resources go for the interests of the external actors, particularly multinational corporations that are active in mining, have been active in mining in Central African Republic for decades, and really rendering the people on the land invisible."
The United Nations is currently considering a "peacekeeping force" of 12,000, in addition to 1,000 European Union, 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops.
Writer and political analyst Nanjala Nyabola, writing for Al Jazeera America, raised questions about the economic and strategic motives of intervention, particularly by the CAR's former colonizer. "For a European nation to respond so quickly and relatively robustly questions must be raised about just who or what France is there to protect," she writes.