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Inside Bangui, a deserted city

Despite all the perils of reporting from this war-torn Central African country, it is a place that gets under the skin.
Last modified: 6 Dec 2013 14:39

Someone asked me what the most difficult part was of covering stories in Central African Republic.

It is a difficult job, especially on a day like Thursday, when we were woken up by the sound of gunfire and mortar rounds landing close by.

As a journalist, the immediate reaction is to head towards the action.

However, there are no clear front lines in Bangui, and there is no credible force with which to be embedded. Moreover, there are no civilian drivers willing to risk what could well be a deadly journey.

Despite all the perils of reporting from this country, it is a place that gets under the skin.

There is something about the straightforwardness of Central Africans, the way they openly share their joy - and their grief - that makes you want to leave the safety of the hotel, and get out there to speak to people.

We, like many of the probably far braver journalists staying here, made it out of the compound to one of the main hospitals in Bangui, named "Hopital Communautaire".

Incredible job

A team of dedicated Medicins Sans Frontieres staff is doing an incredible job ushering in the walking wounded, trying to keep the Seleka forces out, all while operating on the seriously injured.

I noticed the range of injuries people have sustained; there are gunshot wounds, as well cuts from machetes and knives.

There are hardly any beds, and no mattresses, bleeding people are forced to lie on the ground or on benches, screaming in pain. There is no air-conditioning and, in the sweltering heat, relatives fan the injured with pieces of paper or scarves.

We asked if we could see the mortuary - we wanted to get an idea of how many people had been killed.

We counted at least 25 bodies, while other journalists have seen at least 50 corpses in another Bangui hospital, and we have seen pictures of perhaps a dozen more bodies in a mosque.

This is a complex conflict, with various armed groups.

The people behind Thursday's attack on the capital are known as Anti-Balaka, which means “anti-machete" in the local language, Sango.

Back in September, they appeared to be a coalition of angry, mostly Christian villagers, armed with little more than bows and arrows. It seems now that soldiers loyal to Francois Bozize, the former president,  may be controlling them.

There are some in the city who talk of a relatively organised three-prong attack on Thursday morning by this group - an attempted coup. There are reports that Anti-Balaka may have killed a top Seleka general during the assault.

Guns and machetes

We saw no Anti-Balaka fighters on the streets of the capital, just former Seleka rebels now part of the security forces.

They showed us their guns and machetes, promising vengeance.

Many fear what it will mean for vulnerable communities in the city. On Thursday night, many Christians were sleeping in churches, and many Muslims rested under the protection of Seleka.

From the relative safety of my hotel room, I can hear sporadic gunfire. People here are desperate for protection.

Whether that comes from the French or African forces, it doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that something is done here - before it really is too late.

In 1994, news surrounding the election of Nelson Mandela diverted attention away from the genocide in Rwanda.

The world's media is trying to leave CAR this time for the death of the great man.

In the past week, the world was beginning to wake up to the crisis here. I hope it is not forgotten once again.