The United Nations has evacuated almost 100 Muslims from the capital of the crisis-torn Central African Republic to “save their lives”, officials say.
Supported by staff from the UN’s refugee agency, 93 Muslims were transported east from Bangui to the town of Bambari, says El Hadj Abacar ben Ousmane, senior official in the town about 300km from the capital.
Sectarian violence in the former French colony has killed thousands in the past year.
The Muslim group travelled to Bambari from Sunday through to Monday in two trucks, accompanied by a convoy of vehicles from the French peacekeeping force Sangaris, the UNHCR refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration.
The convoy was pelted with stones as it passed through the town of Sibut, a member of the African-led MISCA peacekeeping force told AFP.
“This is a measure to save their lives, taken as a last resort after a long time considering their case,” said Tammi Sharpe, deputy head of the UNHCR in the Central Africa Republic.
She said the evacuated Muslims had been “constantly attacked” in their northern Bangui neighbourhood of PK 12, where conditions at the moment are “particularly tense”.
In Bambari, a Christian-majority town of 45,000 people, El Hadj Abacar ben Ousmane said Muslims and Christians could live in “harmony”.
“We would have no objection to welcoming others,” he said. “We have no problems with each other.”
The Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries in the world, plunged into a crisis after a coup by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels in March last year.
After seizing power, some rebels went rogue and embarked on a campaign of killing, raping and looting.
The abuses prompted members of the Christian majority to form vigilante groups, unleashing brutal tit-for-tat killings – leaving thousands dead, close to a million displaced and warnings the country is on the brink of genocide.