Peacekeepers gathered around the Bangui district of the Central African Republic on Monday to allow people to vote in a secure environment one day after violence erupted in the district and stopped the casting of votes in a major referendum.
On Sunday, day of the planned referendum, five people were killed in clashes in the PK-5 district in where the majority of the population is Muslim. Also 20 people were injured, some to a serious extent, during fighting that involved rocket launchers and machine guns, according to the Red Cross. These occurrences have increased concern regarding whether or not elections will proceed on December 27.
In order to keep the peace and enable voters of the Bangui district to carry out the voting process in a constitutional referendum conducted with the purpose of putting a stop to sect-related conflict, UN peacekeepers and French soldiers were placed for duty around the PK-5 district, while a military helicopter circled the area.
Violence started to break out and tension began to rise following the ousting of veteran leader Francois Bozize, who is a Christian, by rebels from the Seleka force, which consists of mainly Muslims, in March 2013. This incident started a chain of violence with Christian militia who are known as ‘’anti-balaka’’ or in other words anti-machete.
The tension in the poverty-stricken country continues to be high, however many of the voters participating in the referendum made it clear they long for a life of peace. This may perhaps be the reason participation in the referendum was high and there were also no reports of new violence on Monday in the PK-5 district.
This desire for peace was evident from the outlook of voters, "We don't really know what's in this constitution... but above all, we're voting for peace," said one voter named Njadder.
There is a divide in the Muslim community of the PK-5 district, in where a majority group favours the constitutional process and another group opposes it.
Hassan Brassoul Moussa, a spokesman for Muslim youth in PK-5 said,"We agree to live together with the Christians. We want to live in peace but we have been taken hostage by armed groups."
Moussa ordered for the arrest of "criminals who want to sow chaos amongst us" and also Abdoulaye Hissene, a former Seleka, supposed general, accused of organising the violence on Sunday, was brought in for special vitriol.
Polling to make up for the prevented referendum was also carried out in other areas of the former French colony, where men who were armed hindered polling on Sunday, electoral authorities said.
A source that is unnamed in the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA, who were deployed with the aim of suppressing fighting which has left 10 percent of the population with no other choice than to flee their homes since the 2013 coup, reported bouts of violence in the country’s north and east regions.
The vote was also opposed by some supporters of the mostly Christian militia, in where a majority is behind ousted president Bozize, whose is not able to run in the upcoming presidential election due to being rejected as a candidate by the constitutional court.