"Ghost of Rwanda" haunts as US envoy to visit C. African Republic

"Ghost of Rwanda" haunts as US envoy to visit C. African Republic

BANGUI/JOHANNESBURG - Neighbour turning on neighbour, villages razed to the ground, hundreds of victims shot or hacked to death with machetes.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is due to visit violence-racked Central African Republic on Thursday, where she will feel the shadow of Rwanda's 1994 genocide looming over this latest challenge to the world's conscience and capacity to stop slaughter.

Central African Republic, a former French colony with a population of only around 5 million and a turbulent history, has long been ignored as a remote African backwater on the global policy agenda, watched mostly by its former colonial master, human rights rapporteurs and development experts.

But waves of massacres and reprisals by Muslim and Christian militias have killed hundreds there since rebels seized power in March, waking the world up to the fact that it might be witnessing the prelude to another Rwanda, where 800,000 were hacked, shot or clubbed to death in 100 days.

Speaking from Abuja, Nigeria, on Wednesday, Power said that while the world had seen great atrocities before, each situation was unique and direct comparisons between Central African Republic and past crises were "inevitably flawed." "But it is worth noting that Somalia taught us what can happen in a failed state, and Rwanda showed us what can occur in a deeply divided one," she said. "The people in Central African Republic are in profound danger and we all have a responsibility... to help them move away from the abyss."

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, described how the fighting between mainly Muslim Seleka rebels and "anti-balaka" Christian defence groups has spiralled into a murderous vortex of tit-for-tat killings that is tearing apart the nation's towns and countryside. "When neighbours are killing neighbours, it becomes almost impossible to stop," said Bouckaert, who recently visited Central African Republic.

Power, who was named UN ambassador by President Barack Obama in June and is a member of his Cabinet, knows better than most what happens when the world hesitates to act decisively, or even looks the other way, when faced with indiscriminate bloodletting.

Before becoming a diplomat, the former journalist, rights activist and Yale and Harvard scholar gained global fame by dissecting the US failure to stop 20th-century genocides in Rwanda and elsewhere with her Pulitzer Prize-winning book "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide".

Power's trip to Bangui is a high-profile diplomatic initiative to ensure that the same kind of "system silence, system failure" she has said led to the world standing by as Rwanda's genocide unfolded is not repeated in Central African Republic.

"It's something very close to her heart obviously because of her history," said one senior UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another UN diplomat, who also asked not to be named, says Power has said she feels like the "the only person in the US administration to care about Central African Republic".

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