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

2014.  Gaza.  Palestine.  Schoolchildren head to class at the Sobhi Abu Karsh School in the Shujai'iya neighborhood. Operation Protective Edge lasted from 8 July 2014 – 26 August 2014, killing 2,189 Palestinians of which 1,486 are believed to be civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed.  It's estimated that 4,564 rockets were fired at Israel by Palestinian militants.

Inside Gaza with Photographer Peter van Agtmael

What photographer Peter van Agtmael encountered in Gaza changed the way he worked.

Read More
WASTELAND PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated December 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof.  No copying, distribution or archiving permitted.  Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited.     REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM.  Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing.        Mandatory usage requirements: (Please note: you may select 5 branded images for online use and 3 images for print/unbranded)1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image2. Show the December cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image3. Provide a prominent link to: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/superfund/voosen-textat the top of your piece, ahead of the photos 4. Mention that the images are from "the December issue of National Geographic magazine” GOWANUS CANALNew York, New YorkPollutants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, lead, copperYear listed: 2010Carved from a tidal estuary 160 years ago, the Gowanus Canal is Brooklyn’s industrial artery—and a deeply polluted waterway. Even so, it’s frequented by herons, seagulls, crabs, and canoeists. Defying local fears of economic stigma, the EPA listed the canal as a Superfund site in 2010. It hopes to start dredging contaminated mud in 2016.

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 24, 2014

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 14 – Nov. 21

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 19,255 other followers