JUBA, South Sudan — The day was supposed to be rousing moment of hope in a country convulsed by horrific sectarian violence: the Central African Republic, where children have been beheaded, mothers carrying babies on their backs have been gunned down, and rampaging mobs have descended on their targets in a storm of machetes and knives.
Central African Republic Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza addressed 4,000 soldiers at a ceremony to launch a renewed national army Wednesday, an event meant to symbolize the military’s role as a professional force that protects all civilians.
She told the soldiers gathered in Bangui, the capital, she was proud of the armed forces, calling on them to report for duty and to support her actions.
But moments after the president and dignitaries left, violence exploded.
Witnesses said a group of soldiers accused a man of belonging to a mainly Muslim group, the former Seleka rebels, who took control of the country last year.
What happened next was swift. The soldiers seized the man and repeatedly stabbed him.
“He was dead within two minutes,” said Peter Bouckaert of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, who observed the killing.
A policeman who tried to stop the soldiers narrowly escaped being killed himself as they screamed he was a traitor, the Associated Press reported.
Bouckaert documented the violence in a shocking series of tweeted photographs. The victim’s leg was severed.
“A man just walked up with the severed leg of the lynching victim, just walking around,” tweeted a shocked Bouckaert.