Published Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 | 8:01 a.m.
Updated Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 | 8:03 a.m.
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Rebels who escaped the capital of Central African Republic last month with the illicit help of peacekeepers from Chad, have now resumed their killing spree in the country's north, a human rights group said Thursday.
The team of researchers from New York-based Human Rights Watch were travelling on a road 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of the Central African Republic's capital on Jan. 26 when they ran into a heavily-armed convoy of Chadian peacekeepers, escorting at least eight rebel cars, including one transporting the head of military intelligence for the Seleka rebels.
The sighting, which Human Rights Watch captured on film, provides what is perhaps the first concrete proof that the Chadian peacekeepers, tasked with protecting civilians, are instead colluding with the very rebels accused of dragging the country into conflict. The Chadian unit is part of a larger African Union peacekeeping force which has been trying to halt the fighting, and the force's other contingents including from Rwanda and the Republic of Congo have been working to garrison the Seleka fighters and to disarm them.
Col. Leon Ndong, the communications officer for the AU peacekeeping force, said that he was not authorized to speak on the matter. The mission's spokesman Eloi Yao told the AP by telephone that he was in a meeting, and could not answer a reporter's questions. Now reports of atrocities are pouring out of the north of the country, where the rebels fled and are now regrouping.
Among the attacks that Human Rights Watch documented is one on Jan. 28 in the locality of Sibut, where three Christian men were detained by the Seleka fighters. They tied them up, and stabbed them with knives over a five-hour period, accusing them of belonging to a Christian militia. When it became clear that they didn't have any links to the militia, the Seleka commander ordered them to be executed, according to Human Rights Watch's report.
"If the African Union is truly going to protect civilians in the Central African Republic, it needs to rein in the rogue activities of the Chadian peacekeeping troops," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch. "The Chadian forces should not be enabling the Seleka to prey on civilians."
The Seleka rebels, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, overthrew the country's Christian-led government last March. They are accused of systematically attacking Christian villages, and committing atrocities including burning people alive. In the last months of 2013, the country was dragged into what French officials described as a near-genocide, when Christian self-defense militias began retaliatory attacks, targeting Muslim civilians.
In recent weeks, the international community has succeeded in persuading the rebels to hand over power to a transitional government, and both the Muslim rebels and the Christian militias were supposed to disarm. Instead, top Seleka leaders are being ferried out of the capital with the help of Chadian peacekeepers to northern strongholds, where they are regrouping.
For months, there have been growing reports that the Chadians had become a party to the conflict, siding with Seleka. U.N. human rights officials have said they are investigating "multiple testimonies of collusion."