U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power Goes To CAR To Appeal For Peace

Dec 19, 2013
Originally published on December 19, 2013 5:42 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, made a rare visit to the Central African Republic today. Its government was toppled earlier this year, and Muslim and Christian militias are now locked in a brutal fight. Samantha Power met with the country's new president and appealed for reconciliation to prevent further atrocities.

BLOCK: NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Ambassador Power today and she joins us from the capital, Bangui. Michele, Ambassador Power visited thousands of people who've been displaced by the fighting in Central African Republic. They're gathered at a camp by the airport. Describe what she saw there and whom she talked to.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, I mean it's an incredible scene because it's just people sleeping out in the open. She went in - just to the edge of it - to meet with a woman who said she was there with her husband and eight children; that they're too terrified to go back home because of the Seleka fighters. These are the Muslim fighters who ousted the government in a coup in March and have since rampaged through villages, and looted and attacked a lot of civilians. So this is a woman who said she saw these people. They came door-to-door. And she's terrified and she's come here to sleep at this camp.

And I went later and went to a clinic at the camp that's run with Doctors Without Borders. And the woman who runs it said they have absolutely nothing there. There's no food deliveries. The water is very limited. She's seeing people with malaria, lots of machete wounds. The conditions are really quite deplorable.

BLOCK: After she visited this displaced persons camp, as makeshift as it might be, what Ambassador Power say about what she took away from it?

KELEMEN: She came here with some extra pledges of aid, about $15 million in humanitarian aid. But most of her effort here was really aimed at reconciliation, at making sure the two communities that have lived together for so many years here - Muslims and Christians - don't get into this cycle of violence.

You know, she also went to a church. She went to a mosque. And at the mosque, she met with a woman whose family was attacked by these Christian self-defense militias that have popped up after the Seleka forces took over the capital, Bangui. And these Christian forces, this woman described how they came in, attacked her husband with a machete and burned him in front of her.

And this was something that Ambassador Power said that this sort of thing really struck her hard. And she's urging all sides to really pull back from the abyss, as she put it.

BLOCK: Michele, Ambassador Power has focused for many years on preventing atrocities, preventing genocide. Did she talk about that, about her past experience and that colors how she's viewing what's going on in Central African Republic?

KELEMEN: She did and she even made an appeal to journalists here, the local media, that they play a role. You know, she talked about how in Rwanda that they played such a negative role. And here, they could promote reconciliation between these two communities.

And it was interesting to watch her in action here, Melissa, because she was really much like a journalist. She covered the Balkans as a journalist and here she was interviewing people in a lot of ways, taking out her notepads and just trying to get a better sense of what's happening here, and what the U.S. can do to help.

BLOCK: Is there any sense there on the ground in Central African Republic that there is some path toward ending the violence, stopping these atrocities, preventing what could turn into a real huge bloodbath there?

KELEMEN: One thing that was quite interesting, you know, while we looked over and saw all these displaced people at the airport, there was also a big cargo plane, American cargo plane, bringing in Burundian troops. The U.S. is spending up to $100 million to support the French-led African Union mission here. And a big part of that is just bringing in these troops.

And they seem to be helping a little bit ease the situation on the ground. But it's, you know, it's moving but not fast enough for the thousands or so who have died or been displaced already.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. She's traveling with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, in Central African Republic today.

Michele, thanks very much.

Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.