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U.S. Diplomat Tours Central African Republic


The American ambassador to the United Nations is visiting Central African Republic today. Before becoming a diplomat, Samantha Power was a journalist who wrote about stopping genocide. And now she is visiting a country where there's fear of one. Fighting between Muslims and Christians has killed nearly 1,000 people. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Ambassador Power. She's on the line. Hi, Michele.


INSKEEP: Where are you now, and what have you seen?

KELEMEN: Right now we're at the main cathedral in Bangui, capital of Central African Republic, and Samantha Power is here meeting with religious leaders, with Muslims and Christian, because that's really her main message here, is to try to get this country back on the path toward reconciliation. And she's hoping that religious leaders will play a key role in all of that.

INSKEEP: Now, as you've gone across the capital city there, what signs have you seen of the fighting and of people's response to that fighting?

KELEMEN: Right at the airport, there are thousands of people that have camped out there. There was some major fighting at the beginning of this month, and thousands fled and live in these makeshift camps right out at the airport. On the other hand, you can see a little bit of life coming back to the city. There are people milling about. There are some shops open next to ones that have been completely burned.

And we're starting to see the presence of African Union peacekeepers. The U.S. has been airlifting those peacekeepers, and soon after we arrived, another U.S. cargo plane filled with troops from Burundi arrived here in Bangui.

INSKEEP: When you talk about people at the airport, are they clustering at the airport because they want to get out of the country, or because that's one of the few places that has been secure?

KELEMEN: It's just one of the few places that's been secure. I mean, this is a vast country. It's - in many parts of the country, we're told that people don't have anywhere to go, and they're just hiding in the bush and fleeing their villages because of all of this violence.

INSKEEP: What is Ambassador Power wanting religious leaders to do?

KELEMEN: She's hoping they'll have a message of reconciliation. And, you know, Steve, there was a very interesting meeting that she had here with human rights activists. One young person was saying the reason why so many young people are joining these Christian militias is because they've seen their families slaughtered by these Muslim fighters, who took over the capital in March.

Samantha Powers' message to these people is, you know, mob violence is quick, but real justice takes time. She's appealing to them to - even amid all the violence, and very recent violence - to stand above it. It's a very difficult message she's bringing here to young people who are, you know, who are human rights activists.

This one fellow, in fact, said he came from a family of both Muslims and Christians. But he said if nothing stops, if this conflict continues, I'm going to join, he said, the anti-balaka forces, which are these Christian militias.

INSKEEP: How much influence does the United States have here?

KELEMEN: She's the first - the highest level official who's ever come to Central African Republic. This is a very remote part of the world, very remote country. But the U.S. is offering $100 million to help this French-led African Union force. It's airlifting and equipping a lot of the African troops. And she's come here with some humanitarian aid, $15 million. But mainly, it's a diplomatic push, to try to see if that can help at all.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power in Central African Republic. Michele, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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