UN peacekeepers are heading into the Central African Republic

The World
Central African Republic

Seleka soldiers ride a motorcycle during fighting in Bangui, Central African Republic, December 5, 2013.

REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

After the Rwandan genocide, many world leaders vowed "never again." That vow may soon be tested because of the violence unfolding in another African nation — the Central African Republic, or CAR.

Today, more than 100 people were killed in a new round of fighting there. Militias loyal to ousted president Francois Bozize reportedly attacked the capital city, now in the hands of former rebels who took power in a coup last March. That's only the latest violence in months of what many describe as indiscriminate killing of civilians and fighters alike.

The United Nations Security Council just authorized sending an intervention force made up of French and African troops to help prevent further escalation.

BBC reporter Thomas Fessy says Christian communities are fighting Muslim communities, with attrocities committed by both sides. But he says calling it Christian versus Muslim violence is too simplistic. It is really just chaos. In many cases, no one is sure who is fighting whom.

"Anytime there is fighting that breaks out, it takes more than an hour to understand who has fired the first shot," says Fessy, who is in the CAR. "So when we're talking about violence in the CAR, the violence is all out. Many sides. Many different groups."

Some of those watching the situation, including French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, warn that the CAR is "on the verge of genocide."

Journalist Philip Gourevitch wouldn't go that far, yet. Gourevitch writes for the New Yorker and is the author of "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda."

Gourevitch says it's too soon to call it "genocide," given how hard it is to tell who is attacking whom. And he says you have to be careful when you use that term.

"I always say, when people say 'Never again,' that's a very high standard. And you don't want to find yourself saying, 'This isn't that again.' You don't want to wait for, you know, Auschwitz or Rwanda before you say, 'Okay, we've reached the threshold,'" Gourevitch says.

He says what's happening in the CAR "doesn't seem to be anything like organized on the Rwandan scale. The Rwandan scale was really a very systematic state-sponsored program of genocide, where the idea was to mobilize every community in the country."

Michelle Mays is less concerned about the terminology used to describe the chaos in the CAR than she is about the desperate conditions of the country's people.

Mays is a nurse working for the aid group Doctors without Borders. She recently returned from a two-month stint in the CAR where she was based in a town called Boguila. She travelled throughout the northwest of the country.

"As we would drive past some villages we would think that the village was empty and had been abandoned," she recalls. "But we would see people hiding behind houses because they would hear a vehicle coming and they had no idea who it was, because they would be attacked without any notice.   

"I have also travelled to villages that have been burnt down, completely abandoned after attacks. So, it's a beautiful place, but quite a difficult place."

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