1. Where is the Central African Republic?
It's pretty much square in the middle of Africa (hence the name). It used to be a French colony, but gained independence in 1960. The Central African Republic is home to vast forests and large amounts of minerals, the kinds of resources that often invite corruption conflict.
2. Who lives in the Central African Republic?
A little girl and her grandmother in a Christian refugee camp in Bossangoa. (Fred Dufour/Getty Images)
More than 4.4 million people live in the country — roughly the same population as New Zealand or Ireland. The country has been ruled mostly by leaders who were either unelected or took over by force.
There are more than 80 ethnic groups in the Central African Republic. Half of the country identifies as Christian, 15 percent Muslim. Maybe you can see where this is going.
3. Why are they fighting?
An Christian militiaman on the outskirts of Bangui on Dec. 17, 2013. (Ivan Lieman/Getty Images)
The conflict is mostly between Muslims and Christians. Like many situations where there's minority-majority rule, Muslims in the country feel unfairly represented by a long-ruling majority Christian government.
So a mostly Muslim militia staged a coup in March, quickly overtaking the country's capital and nullifying the constitution. Christian militias called "anti-balaka" aligned with the government struck back, going door-to-door killing Muslim men on Dec. 5. About 60 people died in the attack. The Muslim militia, known as Seleka, retaliated against Christians, killing more than a thousand men and looting homes in two days of harrowing violence.
4. How has this all affected everyday people there?
(Fred Dufour/Getty Images)
Fearing for their lives, both Christian and Muslim communities have gone into hiding since, many of them seeking protection from their respective militia groups. Human rights organizations have recorded widespread abuses since the violence erupted earlier this month, including sexual assault, summary executions, torture, looting and extortion.
About 710,000 people have been displaced across the country as of Dec. 17 — that’s 10 percent of the population. About 210,000 of those displacements occured in capital of Bangui in a little as two weeks.
For ordinary people, the situation is dire. Amnesty International reported that civilians are often being targeted by militia groups.
“Despite the presence of French and African military forces meant to protect the civilian population, civilians are being willfully killed on a daily basis. Some victims have been shot; others have been killed by angry mobs with machetes; others have been stoned.”
People living outside the capital are having a harder time because the United Nations and other agencies are unable to reach them due to lack of security, according to the BBC. Finding food is becoming a problem for the upwards of 1 million people living outside the capital.
5. Why should we care?
(Fred Dufour/Getty Images)
Other than the moral obligation to protect innocent civilians, the world is worried the violence could continue to spiral, turning the Central African Republic into the kind of failed state that criminal and terrorist organizations like to make their home.
There is also serious concern the conflict could spread to the country's relatively insecure neighbors. War-torn Democratic Republic of Congo sits south of the border, while the volatile countries of Sudan and South Sudan are to the east. Chad, one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world, is also nearby.
6. Is the world doing anything to stop it?
The bloodshed prompted France, the country's former colonial ruler, to send 1,600 soldiers. The African Union is sending another 6,000 troops. Germany, Britain and Spain are providing logistical and material support. The United States is giving $100 million to help fund the international troops and $24.6 million in humanitarian aid. The UN Security Council voted to take over the mission.
But UN's attempt at rescuing CAR might be too little too late for country's capital, as we reported earlier.