Central African Republic’s Bone Collectors

Recalling a 2013 atrocity and its awful aftermath

Central African Republic’s Bone Collectors Central African Republic’s Bone Collectors
In early August 2015, workers from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action exhumed three piles of bones from a drinking well in the Kilometer-5... Central African Republic’s Bone Collectors

In early August 2015, workers from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action exhumed three piles of bones from a drinking well in the Kilometer-5 district of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic. At least three people, and possibly more, were deposited there.

The remains were missing their skulls.

It was a common discovery in Central African Republic. Long after violence between militant Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups subsided in the capital in 2013, hundreds of unidentified corpses still rotted in watery graves.

Dead bodies stuffed into neighborhood wells by militants poisoned the water table and confused the United Nations body-count as the Transitional Government Council pushed reconciliation between militants across the country.

The United Nations estimated that 3,000 to 6,000 people died during the country’s conflict. Hidden bodies and mass graves in remote areas of the countryside made a precise count impossible.

War Is Boring originally covered the exhumation in August 2015. Now that Daniel Britt’s photos of the dig have become available, we’re revisiting the aftermath of Central African Republic’s terrible conflict.

At top — neighbors crowd around the pile of human bones being sprayed after they were dredged from a well in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on Aug. 1, 2015. According to local witnesses, the victims were killed in violence between Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups in 2013 and their bodies were stuffed down the well. This was the first of hundreds of wells marked for exhumation by international organizations in Bangui. Central African Republic continues to live in the shadow of the horrific violence between Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups that fractured the country in late 2013 through the spring of 2014. Above — a boy sells hard-boiled eggs under a sign promoting peace between Christians and Muslims in Bangui on July 25, 2015. Widespread joblessness has been blamed for the ease with which militant groups recruited youth to massacre each other after CAR’s 2013 coup.
A worker from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action prepares to lower himself into a well in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on July 31, 2015 to search for the remains of three to four people who were killed and hidden inside.
A worker combs through dirt for human remains in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on July 28, 2015.
A worker arranges the bones of three or possibly four people that were dredged from a drinking well in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on Aug. 1, 2015.
Workers from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action prepare to work into the night in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on July 31, 2015.
High grass obscures the grave of a victim of violence between Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups on July 16, 2015 in the village of Nzila in Central African Republic. Remote areas outside the capital of Bangui were popular execution sites.
A woman squeezes the blood of a sacrificed chicken around a well in Bangui’s Kilometer-5 district on July 31, 2015. Non-governmental organizations estimate hundreds of bodies have been hidden in wells across Central African Republic. Local magic rituals delayed the exhumation of this particular well for days.
A worker takes a rest from sorting through human remains in Bangui on Aug. 1, 2015.
A worker lowers himself into a well in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on Aug. 1, 2015 searching for the remains of three to four people who were killed and hidden inside.
Bottle caps form a cross on the grave of a victim of violence between Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups on July 16, 2015 in the village of Nzila in Central African Republic. Remote areas outside the capital of Bangui were popular execution sites.
Children migrate past an unused well in Begoa on July 24, 2015. The district chief estimated that at least 17 wells across the Bangui suburb have been closed because they are clogged with corpses. Begoa lies just beyond the capitals city limit, where international organizations such as the Red Cross lack facilities.
A human jaw bone lies in the grass just outside Bangui’s Kilometer-5 district on July 15, 2015.
Ramon Yoro, 43 poses for a photo in Bangui’s Kilometer-5 district on Friday, July 17, 2015. Yoro was attacked by three Seleka militants on his way home from a prayer group in 2014. He was shot in the mouth and the stomach and left for dead.
Disenfranchised Seleka men gather for a bread and butter lunch in Bangui’s Camp Beal on Thursday, July 16, 2015. The former French army post hosted dozens of homeless Seleka men and their families.
Ursula Mokofio navigates debris from a destroyed home in Bangui’s Kilometer-5 district on July 17, 2015.
Villagers gather around a drinking well in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on July 31, 2015.
Workers for the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action shine light on the bones of three or possibly four people that were dredged from a drinking well in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on July 31, 2015.
Workers display a rope used to bind the arms of one of the people whose remains were dredged from a well in Bangui’s Kilometre-5 district on July 31, 2015.

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