Reports coming from the Central African Republic indicate that in the town of Bakala, rebels from the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic executed 25 people on December 12 after calling them to a school for an alleged meeting. Earlier the same day, UPC fighters executed seven men who were returning from a nearby gold mine.
Accounts of the incident from Human Rights Watch were provided by a survivor and eight witnesses, including five men who were forced to help dispose of the bodies. At leat 29 other civilians have been killed in fighting around Bakala since late November.
The UPC, a Muslim rebel group, and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, FPRC), another rebel group drawn from the predominantly Muslim Seleka fighters, fell out with each other late last year. On November 27, 2016, and the UPC then attacked civilians they suspected of belonging to the christian anti-balaka militia allied with the FPRC.
The HRW report says, “The total number of victims is most likely higher than the 32 people executed and the 29 civilians killed during clashes because dozens of other people are unaccounted for.”
Around 5 a.m. on December 12, a group of UPC fighters detained and killed seven men in Bakala as they returned from a nearby gold mine.
“I was hiding in a house and I saw the Peuhl [UPC fighters] gather the men in front of a neighbor’s house and take them inside,” said “Joseph,” a 55-year-old resident of Bakala. “A short time later I heard screams from the men. They were yelling, ‘Why are you killing us?’ and ‘I’m dying!’ I also heard shots. This was all at 5 a.m. A short while later the Peuhl found me and made me help throw the bodies in a well.”
Later that morning, UPC fighters in Bakala executed another 24 men and at least one boy, whom they accused of supporting the Christian anti-balaka. Bakala residents said that UPC fighters sent a message around town that they would hold a meeting at a local school. Some men were already held at the school from the previous night and when others arrived, the fighters seized the men and gunned them down.
“These executions are brazen war crimes by UPC fighters who feel free to kill at will,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The group is carrying out its killing sprees with no fear of punishment, despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers.”
On January 23, 2017, General Ali Darassa Mahamant, commander of the rebel group, told Human Rights Watch that his men did not kill any civilians in Bakala or the surrounding villages. “Soldiers in the UPC cannot execute civilians or prisoners,” he said. “What you have heard about the UPC are lies.”
Darassa said that he exerts full control over his men.