More than 5,000 dead in Central African Republic

There are no headstones to mark these graves, no loving words, nothing to tell the world who lies in these two giant pits full of bodies, or why. Yet a handful of village elders are determined that nobody will be forgotten.

PTI| Updated: Sep 13, 2014, 00:47 AM IST

Guen: There are no headstones to mark these graves, no loving words, nothing to tell the world who lies in these two giant pits full of bodies, or why. Yet a handful of village elders are determined that nobody will be forgotten.

These old men, their eyes clouded by cataracts and their ears hacked by machete blades, sit on dirty straw mats at a church and gather the names of the dead from broken survivors.

They write each name carefully in Arabic with faded blue ink on lined paper, neatly folded and stored in the pocket of one man's tattered kaftan. The list is four pages long.

At least 5,186 people have died in Central African Republic since fighting between Muslims and Christians started in December, according to a tally gleaned from more than 50 of the hardest-hit communities and the capital, Bangui. That's well more than double the death toll of about 2,000 cited by the United Nations back in April, when it approved a peacekeeping mission. The deaths have mounted steadily since, with no official record.

As the UN prepares to go into the Central African Republic next week, the death toll underscores how the aid is coming too late for thousands of victims. The about 2,000 extra troops to boost African forces fall short of the almost 7,000 authorised in April, with the rest expected by early 2015. Yet the conflict has turned out to be far more deadly than it was then, and warnings of potential mass carnage from former coloniser France and from the UN itself have gone unheeded.