The French parliament has voted in favour of extending its military operation in the Central African Republic (CAR) in an effort to quell the escalating sectarian conflict there.
Earlier this month, France deployed 400 more troops to CAR to boost its contingent to almost 2,000. The French are supporting a 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission.
CAR has been gripped by violence since Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the mainly Christian country in March. The United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International have both warned of “ethnic cleansing”.
Muslims are fleeing for fear of reprisals by Christian militia. Only a few hundred remain in the western gold trading town of Yaloke – where before there were an estimated 30,000.
One Christian woman in Yaloke told reporters, “We don’t want any more Muslims. If they come back there will be hell again.”
Although one man spoke up in a Yaloke town meeting calling for tolerance and cooperation with “our Muslim brothers who have lived with us for 50 years”, the atmosphere of fear and violence is continuing to drive them away.
Across CAR, more than one million people have been displaced and tens of thousands killed, according to estimates by Human Rights Watch (HRW).