BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon vowed Saturday that the world would not forget Central African Republic, as he visited the country wracked by sectarian violence that has left thousands dead and forced most of the nation's Muslims to flee.
Ban's visit — his first since the bloodshed erupted in December — came just before he goes on to Rwanda to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide there. The U.N. chief has been among the most vocal of world leaders in calling on countries to prevent a similar tragedy in Central African Republic.
"The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago. And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the CAR today," Ban told members of a transitional council tasked with preparing the country for elections by February 2015.
"Atrocity crimes are being committed in this country," he said. "Ethno-religious cleansing is a reality. Most members of the Muslim minority have fled."
International aid groups have criticized the U.N. response to the crisis, though Ban himself has spoken forcefully about the need to protect civilians in Central African Republic, where at one point earlier this year Muslims were being killed by Christian mobs in the streets on a near-daily basis.
"There is a hole in the heart of Africa," Ban said Saturday. "Every day, I wake up thinking about your trials and troubles. Everywhere, I have called on leaders to step up their efforts," he said. "Some say this is a forgotten crisis. I am here to help make sure the world does not forget."
Ban ventured well beyond the security of Bangui's airport, meeting interim President Catherine Samba-Panza and even visiting Muslims at one of the last remaining operational mosques in the capital. Displaced families who have spent weeks sleeping outdoors on the grounds of the mosque held signs reading "Ban Ki-moon: We want to go to the north."