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U.N. chief warns against repeat of Rwanda in Central African Republic

Susanna Capelouto | 4/10/2014, midnight

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday warned officials in the embattled Central African Republic not to repeat the mistakes that led to the Rwanda genocide 20 years ago.

In a speech to the country’s National Transitional Council in the capital city, Bangui, the leader of the international body also urged the world not to “look away” from the nation’s turmoil.

“Some say this is a forgotten crisis,” Ban said. “I am here to help make sure the world does not forget.”

The Central African Republic, a former French colony, plunged into chaos last year after a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels ousted President Francois Bozize. They have since been forced out of power, but Christian and Muslim militias continue to battle for control.

Thousands have died during the fighting and 2.2 million people, about half the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the U.N. More than 650,000 people are still internally displaced, and nearly 300,000 have fled to neighboring countries in search of refuge.

The latest setback comes in the form of charges by the U.N.’s human rights office that soldiers from neighboring Chad attacked civilians in a Bangui market last month.

According to a preliminary report from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the soldiers killed nearly 30 civilians and injured 300 more on March 29.

Investigators said the Chadian soldiers were not part of the African-led peacekeeping force, which is meant to stabilize the Central African Republic, but a group that appeared to have returned to Chad after the attack.

Just before the U.N. published its preliminary findings of the attack, Chad decided to withdraw its 850 troops from the peacekeeping force, a move the chairwoman of the African Union said is understandable.

Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Chad had been the target of repeated attacks by Christian militia elements and unfounded allegations by a number of actors.

“The stigmatization of the Chadian contingent has contributed to the establishment of a climate of insecurity and hostility for which the nationals of that country had paid a heavy price,” Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement.

In his speech Saturday, Ban stressed that the international community has an obligation to act, warning that the Central African Republic is “at risk of partition.”

“The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago,” Ban said. “And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the C.A.R. today.”

In 1994, Hutu extremists in Rwanda targeted ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a three-month killing spree that left an estimated 800,000 people dead. After his visit to the Central African Republic, the U.N. Secretary-General travels to Rwanda for the ceremonies observing the 20th anniversary of the genocide there.

Ban thanked the African Union-led peacekeeping force, as well as the French forces, for their efforts to maintain order in the country.

He said there are preparations for a U.N. presence in the Central African Republic, but peacekeepers “will not arrive right away,” as their deployment depends on decisions from the Security Council.

CNN’s Nana Karikari-Apau contributed to this report.