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Central African Republic crisis: 'Like Darfur, plus anarchy'

Ann Curry

Many children are among the 100,000 people who have fled violence in Bangui, Central African Republic, and are living at a makeshift camp at the city's airport.

BANGUI, Central African Republic – At Bangui International Airport, nearly 100,000 people are living in a makeshift camp after fleeing the unspeakable violence that has seized this nation. They are hungry and living chock-a-block in hangars and under the wings of old airplanes. They believe the presence of French troops nearby will keep them safe. No one appears to be in charge.

Elsewhere in the city, an old monastery has been turned into refugee center filled with children who have endured horrors, like 8-year-old Ngaiso Chekina, who lost her mother, father brother, sister and grandparents to the sectarian brutality.

“I am the only survivor,” she told NBC News.

“I raised my hands to God like this but they didn’t listen to me,” she said. “Finally they killed my mother.”

Ngaiso is watched over by the only relative she has left, a great-aunt. In a program run by Save the Children, she drew a picture of her old life, with fish in a river behind her home and flowers near the front door.

At night, she dreams of her lost family and wakes up crying. She says she has no words for the men who killed her parents, only a prayer.

“Bless me and keep me safe,” she said.

There are reports the president of the Central African Republic could step down as early as Thursday, sparking fears of an even more unstable situation.

At the airport, the United Nations World Food Programme was finally able to pass out food for the first time in four weeks. At times the desperation spilled out of control, with people yelling and shoving for a place in line. 

"Before life was not like this. We are living like animals. We kill each other because there is no justice," Archbishop of the Central African Republic, Dieudonné Nzapalainga told NBC News, adding, "I ask God to purify us so he can introduce us again to love each other."

The violence here has included documented cases of crimes against humanity and war crimes, according to Amnesty International. Both United States and United Nations officials have feared a slide into genocide.

On the streets, that fear is rising with reports that the interim president of the Central African Republic could soon step down. The reports from numerous news agencies, including Reuters, cite diplomatic and political sources as saying the resignation of President Michel Djotodia is "imminent" and could come as early as  Thursday.  If that is true, the concern is, revenge killings could come next.

Djotodia is reportedly out of the country, heading to Chad where a summit of regional leaders is being held.

It was Djotodia's accendancy to the presidency that lit the match for the rage of violence, when in this majority Christian nation, mostly Muslim rebels seized control of the government last March, and installed him as the country's first Muslim president.  The rebels then began targeting Christians.  After months of killings, raping and pillaging, Christians formed vigilante groups in response.

But there is more to what is fueling the horrific intensity of the rampages.  These two groups include separate ethnic tribes who've long struggled over resources, though before the coup they were able to live together and even inter-marry.

Now both sides are accused of systematically targeting the other, going house to house to pull people out of their beds, killing mostly men but also women. Even children have suffered the ugliest kinds of violence.

Tim Sandler / NBC News

Ann Curry interviews Archbishop of the Central African Republic Dieudonné Nzapalainga, who said of the crisis in his country: "We are living like animals."

The violence includes torture, lynchings, beheadings, rape, drownings, people being set on fire, many ending up in mass graves. It is happening throughout the country, but most of the violence is here in Bangui.

Dependable numbers of just how many people have been killed are hard to find. About 1,000 people are thought to have been killed since December, but the true number is believed to be far higher. Fear of the violence has 935,000 people, or more than 20 percent of the country's population, on the run for safety, and more than half are children.

As Amy Martin, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in CAR, told NBC News, "This is like Darfur, plus anarchy."

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