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Originally published Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:45 PM

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Central African Republic soldiers brutally kill man at army ceremony

The attack shows the degree of hatred and savagery to which the Central African Republic has fallen and the difficulty faced by the international community, which has already deployed thousands of peacekeepers, to try to stabilize it..

Los Angeles Times

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JUBA, South Sudan — The day was supposed to be a rousing moment of hope in a country convulsed by sectarian violence: the Central African Republic, where children have been beheaded, mothers carrying babies on their backs have been gunned down and mobs have attacked their targets in a storm of machetes and knives.

The Central African Republic’s interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, addressed 4,000 soldiers at a ceremony to launch a renewed national army Wednesday, an event meant to symbolize the military’s role as a professional force that protects all civilians. She told the soldiers gathered in Bangui, the capital, that she was proud of the armed forces.

But moments after the president and dignitaries left, violence exploded. Witnesses said a group of soldiers accused a man of belonging to a mainly Muslim group, the former Seleka rebels, who took over the country last year.

What happened next was swift and brutal. The soldiers seized the man and stomped and stabbed him to death.

“He was dead within two minutes,” said Peter Bouckaert of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, who observed the killing.

A policeman who tried to stop the soldiers narrowly escaped being killed himself as they screamed that he was a traitor, The Associated Press reported.

Bouckaert documented the violence in a series of tweeted photographs. The victim’s leg was severed. The soldiers piled tires on the body and set it afire. One leg protruded awkwardly from the ashes. Soldiers celebrated as the flames rose.

A crowd stood in a circle photographing the incident. A soldier threw a grenade at a truck that he thought might have been a Seleka rebel vehicle.

Bouckaert said he and his team had witnessed two lynchings and three attempted ones in the past five days. “We’ve had to personally intervene to stop people being killed,” he said. “In one case, as we drove past a mob trying to kill someone, we used our car to shield him from the mob and bring him to safety.”

Bouckaert said the killings were evidence that the crisis had not been stabilized by the arrival of 6,600 African and French troops, stretched thin in a country nearly the size of Texas, about half of which is affected by violence.

Looting continues in many neighborhoods of the capital, where terrified Muslims are packing up and leaving to escape Christian mobs. In other parts of the country, Christian civilians are fleeing Muslim militia attacks.

Bouckaert said the government, United Nations and other international organizations were not doing enough to halt the bloodshed.

The boiling undercurrent of sectarian hatred — a recent phenomenon in a country where until last year Christians and Muslims mostly lived peacefully — has seen savage attacks in the capital and in remote areas.

The crisis blew up after a loose alliance of mainly Muslim rebels, the Seleka, boosted by fighters from Chad and Sudan, swept in last year, burning villages, unleashing atrocities and installing Michel Djotodia as president.

Djotodia disbanded the rebels and folded many into the army, but he couldn’t control the former Seleka who continued to rampage. Local Christian vigilante groups sprang up to hunt down Muslims, and a dangerous cycle of tit-for-tat attacks began. Djodotia stepped down last month after intense pressure from African leaders, and many former Seleka left the army.

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