Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic

91 christian bodies at the morgue of Community hospital, dating mostly from the day before. Many are civilians on which Seleka got revenge after the several attacks of Antibalaka on Bangui.
William Daniels—Panos
Dec. 6, 2013. Bodies in the morgue of the Hôpital Communautaire in Bangui.

Fri, Nov. 6, 2:30pm EST: We have updated the estimated death toll to reflect the most recent statistics published by the Red Cross. New images by William Daniels have been added to the beginning of the slideshow, and we’ll continue to update this post as newer information becomes available.

The phone rang just before dawn. On the other end, call after call, were voices informing William Daniels, the French photojournalist, of fresh attacks on several districts in Bangui, the ramshackle capital of the crisis-hit Central African Republic. Not a day earlier, on Dec. 4, the fighters he met in the bush, an hour’s walk from the center of town, had said that wouldn’t happen: That men with big knives and guns wouldn’t come in to attack the men who attacked them first.

But in this latest bout of bloodshed, Christian vigilantes in self-defense units referred to as anti-balaka (or “anti-machete”) reportedly swung into sections of Bangui previously overrun by Séléka, a disbanded alliance of rebel groups with mostly Muslim fighters. They mercilessly laid into their aggressors and Muslim civilians, exacting revenge for nearly a year of Séléka-instigated instability. Hours later and despite light weaponry, at least when compared to the rocket-propelled grenades and kalashnikovs flaunted by the ex-Séléka, hundreds were feared dead and scores more wounded. Two days later, the Red Cross said it had collected 394 bodies and expected to find more. This, nine months after Séléka barreled into the city, ousting President Françios Bozizé and installing one of their own as his successor. This, mere hours before the U.N. Security Council approved military action by France and other African nations to try to restore law and order.

When the firefights stopped, the enormity of what transpired became apparent. Daniels, 36, had heard a lot, but was kept back until the clamor faded. He ended up at Hôpital Communautaire, its morgue holding some 50 bodies, by an aid worker’s estimate. A tireless staff struggled to mend more than double that figure. “It was very tense. You had to walk in between people lying on the floor,” he told TIME. “They asked us not to stay very long because they didn’t have much space.” The wounds were ghastly: “Some had very, very big cuts on their arms, on their legs.” Some, even, on their backsides. Those, he suspected, the result of machetes as they fled.

He and several colleagues found a similar scene at the Ali Babolo Mosque in the PK5 neighborhood. To get there, the normally aggressive ex-Séléka designated a fighter to safely escort them. Upon reaching the worship site, the man told his brethren: “All the journalists are coming. They’re coming to photograph the dead bodies, so don’t get angry with them.” There, in a small space, were 58 of them; mostly civilians, including four women. “Seeing all those bodies was very shocking,” Daniels said. “Very, very shocking.” The group stayed about 30 minutes.

The staccato of sporadic gunfire could be heard through the afternoon. Once night fell, the city center remained eerily empty. No cars, no people, no noise. For how long, he couldn’t say. After the U.N. resolution was approved, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the intervention would begin before the next dawn. Some reinforcements did arrive, but Daniels said it’s the ordinary citizens he’ll continue to photograph: “What is most important is to cover the human side of the conflict.” He doesn’t see how this battle, seemingly growing more sectarian as each month passes, could end quickly. Not after he and the other journalists returned to the hospital and counted 40 more bodies. Not after Dec. 5: “What happened today, you can’t go back. There’s no way to go back after that.”


William Daniels is a photographer represented by Panos Pictures. Daniels previously wrote for TIME about his escape from Syria.

Andrew Katz is a reporter with TIME covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.


Related Topics: , , , ,

Latest Posts

Mg Ko, 20 years old. A Shan farmer with his cow in Lui Pan Sone Village. Kayah State.

Transforming Lives in Burma, One Solar Panel at a Time

In Burma, where only a quarter of the population has access to electricity, solar panels can change lives, as Spanish photographer Ruben Salgado Escudero found out

Read More
Diana Walker—Contour by Getty Images for TIME

An Intimate Portrait of Hillary Clinton in Photographs

LOVED ONE LOST:NAME: Jabril BradleyAGE: 20DOB: 10/6/1990SEX: MaleDATE OF DEATH: 9/1/2011TIME: After MidnightLOCATION: 9th st and Ave of the States, Chester, PACIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER: Bradley was riding his bike home from a friend’s house on the east side of Chester, September 1, 2011, when an unknown gunman opened fire. He was struck in the back once and continued to ride his bike home. A number of blocks later he collapsed to the ground from blood loss. He bled to death on the street. Bradley’s family claim that he was shot because of mistaken identity. According to his mother, Bradley was supposed to still be in prison. He was serving a sentence for possession of a controlled substance and was allegedly released before his time was up. Within weeks of his murder, the FBI came looking for Bradley at his mothers house, claiming that he got released by mistake. IN PHOTOGRAPH:NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS: Sister to Jabril Bradley: Danita Harris, 30.Son to Danita Harris: Jah’lil Harris, 3.

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 23, 2014

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,624 other followers