GENEVA The head of a United Nations inquiry said on Monday it was seeking to establish who should face prosecution for killings and other crimes in Central African Republic in order to halt for good bloodshed that has raised fears of genocide.
Thousands have been killed since the Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim northern rebels, seized power a year ago and launched a campaign of looting, torture and killing in the majority Christian country, triggering Christian reprisals. The UN estimates some 650,000 have been displaced by religious violence, while nearly 300,000 have fled to neighboring states.
"We want to present to the Security Council a complete file so that the appropriate action can be taken," Bernard Acho Muna, who chairs a commission of inquiry set up by the U.N. Security Council in December, told a news briefing.
"The Central African Republic has had many coup d'etats. And basically after each coup d'etat there is reconciliation, and nobody is held accountable and then in the end we have people sitting in the cabinet, in government with blood on their hands and this has never helped the situation."
Muna, a former judge in Cameroon, said that a team of U.N. investigators would arrive in Bangui on Tuesday to begin interviewing Christian and Muslim victims of attacks, senior political and military officials and activist groups.
They would draw up a confidential list of suspects for eventual prosecution, to be submitted to world powers later this year, and would also be in touch with a preliminary inquiry by the International Criminal Court (ICC), he said.
"Our role is definitely in going towards the establishment of law, the bringing of people who have committed offences to book," Muna said.
He hoped his investigation would signal to people making what he called "hate propaganda" that they should not embark on greater bloodshed.
"We have also heard reports of genocide. But one thing I can tell you from my Rwandan experience, is that there is definitely a question of propaganda already, hate propaganda, that is usually a very bad sign when they say propaganda."
"We don't wait until genocide is committed and then we call for prosecution. I think it is in our mandate to see how one can stop any advances toward genocide," said Muna, a former deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which investigated 1994 mass killings.
The commission, which includes former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda and Fatimata M'Baye, a lawyer from Mauritania, will spend two weeks in Central African Republic and also look into Chad's role in the violence, he said.
Since the resignation of Seleka leader Michel Djotodia as interim president in January under intense international pressure, Christian "anti-Balaka" militias have stepped up reprisals against Muslims.
Fewer than 1,000 remain of more than 100,000 Muslims who once lived in the capital, after a campaign of violence by Christian militias, U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos said on Friday.
The Security Council last week discussed a proposal for a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force but reached no decision.
France has deployed 2,000 troops to support a 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission in the country of 4.5 million people but they have failed to halt the violence.
Both anti-Balaka and Seleka are carrying out revenge attacks, Muna said.
"But I think that if we show that we are ready, that is the international community is ready to take a firm stand to prosecute people who are already making hate propaganda in view of promoting indiscriminate tribal killings, I think that is a good thing. I think it can be stopped, I really think so."
The prosecutor of the Hague-based ICC said last month she would open a preliminary examination into crimes allegedly committed during the conflict including killings and acts of rape and sexual slavery.
"I see both of us moving towards one direction in being able to establish the different things that have happened in the republic," Muna said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Ralph Boulton)