BANGUI, Central African Republic - Heavily armed peacekeepers escorted some of the last remaining Muslims out of Central African Republic's volatile capital on Sunday, trucking more than 1,300 people who for months had been trapped by violent Christian militants.
Within minutes of the convoy's departure, an angry swarm of neighbors descended upon the mosque in a scene of total anarchy. Tools in hand, they swiftly dismantled and stole the loudspeaker once used for the call to prayer and soon stripped the house of worship of even its ceiling fan blades.
One man quickly scrawled "Youth Center" in black marker across the front of the mosque. Others mockingly swept the dirt from the ground in front of the building with brooms and shouted "We have cleaned Central African Republic of the Muslims!"
"We didn't want the Muslims here and we don't want their mosque here anymore either," said Guy Richard, 36, who loads baggage onto trucks for a living, as he and his friends made off with pieces of the mosque.
Armed Congolese peacekeepers stood watch but did not fire into the air or attempt to stop the looting. Soon teams of thieves were stripping the metal roofs of nearby abandoned Muslim businesses in the PK12 neighborhood of Bangui. "Pillage! Pillage!" children cried as they helped cart away wood and metal.
Sunday's exodus further partitions the country, a process that has been underway since January, when a Muslim rebel government gave up power nearly a year after overthrowing the president of a decade.
The United Nations has described the forced displacement of tens of thousands of Muslims as "ethnic cleansing." While previous groups have been taken to neighboring Chad, Sunday's convoys were headed to two towns in the north on the Central African Republic side of the border.
Joanne Mariner, a senior crisis adviser for Amnesty International, said the people evacuated Sunday had lived in daily fear for months. "It's tragic and inexcusable that the situation was allowed to fall apart so that in the end evacuation was the only way to save people's lives," she said.
The long-chaotic country's political crisis has prompted fears of genocide since it first intensified in December when Christian militants stormed the capital in an attempt to overthrow the Muslim rebel government.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the global aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said three of its workers have been killed.