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BanguiA young girls stands in the doorway of a house. A member of her family, 21 year old Fleuri Doumana, was killed two days earlier by a grenade launched by a member of Seleka. The rebel group that took power in March 2013 carries out numerous exactions such as murder, kidnapping, and torture.
A young girls stands in the doorway of a house, two days after a member of her family was killed by a grenade said to be launched by a member of Séléka. Bangui, Central African Republic. Nov. 14, 2013.William Daniels—Panos for TIME
BanguiA young girls stands in the doorway of a house. A member of her family, 21 year old Fleuri Doumana, was killed two days earlier by a grenade launched by a member of Seleka. The rebel group that took power in March 2013 carries out numerous exactions such as murder, kidnapping, and torture.
BanguiDemonstrators gather on a street in Bangui, the capital, to call for the resignation of interim president Michel Djotodia following the murder of Judge Modeste Martineau Bria by members of the Seleka. 30 minutes after this picture was taken, Seleka militia shot into the crowd, killing two and wounding another.
BanguiA Christian man is destroying burn out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that was set on fire earlier, in the capital Bangui.
BanguiA soldier from the national army, Central African Army Forces (FACA), wounded in fighting with Seleka rebels waits to be treated at the Community Hospital.
BanguiCentral African Republic army soldiers (FACA) mourn the death of a colleague, who was killed by members of the Seleka rebel group.
Antibalakas (christian self defense group)  in the bush between Bossangoa and Bossembelé. Antibalakas first took arms to protect their families from the Seleka exactions (murder, rape, robbery). But some decided to take revenge over the muslims community as the Seleka is made only of muslim men, which made the tensions between the 2 communities getting very bad.
Between Bossemtpele & ZawaPart of a group of several hundred of Anti-Balaka militias return from an attack on a Peul (Fulani - a Muslim tribe) village.
Gulinga, 5 km from Grimari.Relatives mourn the death of two men and one woman, murdered by Seleka fighters shortly before, in the village of Gulinga. They had accused them of being Antibalakas. The woman was killed as collateral damage” according to a Seleka colonel who admitted the killing.  Grimari has been under attack from Antibalakas for two days since it is the gateway to the Ouaka region which is still controlled by Seleka fighters whose general Mahamat Darrassa is a conciliatory figure, having dislodged other Seleka units who were wreaking havoc among local communities. French peacekeepers trust Darassa, viewing him as the only reliable safeguard against sectarian violence in the Ouaka region.
Bangui.A man accused of robbery is detained at the police station. He was about to be killed by the guard of the General direction of work.While we arrived there, the guard was saying he wanted to kill him but left when he saw us. A dozen person around, some in suits, civil servants working at the direction, were claiming he should be killed.
A woman cries the death of her 23 years old daughter Fleuri Doumana who was killed by a grenade launched in her courtyard by a member of the Seleka. The rebel group that took power in March 2013 carries out numerous exactions such as murders, kidnapping, torture.... Bangui.
In Bossangoa, about 40 000 displaced people, mostly christians who left their village attacked by the Seleka, took refuge around the cathedral. The people live there with low access to health, very low food and in bad sanitary conditions.
Nov. 16, 2014.
BanguiA man prepares a body for funeral at the morgue surrounded by Some of the dozens of bodies of Christians presumably killed by Seleka militia in revenge for attacks by Christian Anti Balaka militia on Bangui.
Central African RepublicBanguiRelatives touch the coffin at the funeral of Judge Modeste Martineau Bria who was killed by Seleka fighters in Bangui. The murder of Bria led to an outpouring of public anger at the reign of fear imposed by Seleka fighters who have refused to disband following the December 2012 coup against former president Francois Bozize.
Bangui.French troops are trying to save a muslim man who was attacked by christians while he was in jail, accused of being a Seleka member, responsible for many exactions.
Bangui.Mpoko airport IDP camp where 100 000 people live (Jan-fev)
BanguiA makeshift camp built by around 100,000 internally displaced people near Bangui's Mpoko airport. Though food is short and sanitary conditions are poor, people have fled to the airport area where they feel safe from attack from Seleka fighters due to the French army presence near the airport.
BanguiInternally displaced people (IDP) queue for food at a Don Bosco centre in Bangui. Food supplies are low and there is not enough for everyone. Some 18,000 Christian IDPs took refuge here, fearing violence from mainly Muslim Seleka fighters who have been clashing with Christian Anti Balaka fighters in the capital, Bangui.
BambariA woman cooks in the Bambari hospital coumpound.
Boda.Peul (muslim tribe) children suffering from malnutrition and diarrhea in the enclave of Boda. About 11000 muslims are trapped in Boda center with low food and very low access to health. Children suffer from malnutrition and diarrhea, wounded and sick people can't be treated well as there are only two nurses and a doctor from IOM who comes from time to time. They miss medicines and tools. Any muslims who try to get out of the enclave can be shot by antibalakas. Nearby, there are also 9000 christians displaced by the fighting between the two communities.
Between Bozoum & BossempteleThe remnants of houses burnt by Seleka forces.
Ndassima gold mine. The gold mines in Ndassima were run by Aurafrique, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Axmin, before Seleka rebels managed to take over the site following a 2013 offensive.Several hundred artisanal miners produce an estimated 15 kg per month. Séléka forces under General Ali Daras are in charge of the security of the site and to road to access it from Bambari. According to artisanal miners, local traders and a Séléka commander, soldiers are instructed not to engage in commercial activities and do not levy taxes. They do get contributions from the population when responding to incidents like theft. Most of the gold produced in Ndassima is trafficked to Cameroon through Bangui, by air and over land. In late August, 27 miners died during a landslide (on the left of the picture).
Former child soldiers playing war games as part of their rehabilitation work. According to UNICEF psychologist in charge of them, such play help them to deal with their past.
Bangui.Fishermen on the Oubangui river on early morning.
BoaliAn alter boy prepares for a mass at a church where the priest offered sanctuary to a large group of Muslims who were the target of Anti-Balaka forces.
Boda.Elderly Hamadou Magazi has Tuberculoses and can't leave the enclave to be treated. About 11000 muslims are trapped in Boda center with low food and very low access to health. Children suffer from malnutrition and diarrhea, wounded and sick people can't be treated well as there are only two nurses and a doctor from IOM who comes from time to time. They miss medicines and tools. Any muslims who try to get out of the enclave can be shot by antibalakas. Nearby, there are also 9000 christians displaced by the fighting between the two communities.
BanguiA wounded muslim man lay on the ground after being attacked by dozen of angry christians saying he is a Seleka member. He is protected by MISCA and french soldiers but he will died from his wounds before a medic arrived.
Bodies of christian, mostly antibalakas, laying down in a street in Bangui, on the day following a major attack in several places in the city.
BanguiMalouloud Mahamat Amat, 30, walks in his former coumpound of 5Kilo, in Bangui, where plants obvertook his house and his family's that hosted 43 people and was attacked by Anti Balakas on the 23rd of March by handgenade. 8 members of his family died, including 2 brothers. He is the only one of the family who stayed in Bangui.
A young girls stands in the doorway of a house, two days after a member of her family was killed by a grenade said to be
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William Daniels—Panos for TIME
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Back and Forth in Central African Republic's Unholy War

Jan 15, 2015

That Central African Republic even managed to squeeze into last year's news cycle is a grim feat. After all, it was stacked against heavyweights like the July downing of a Malaysian jet over eastern Ukraine, protests across the U.S. over several police killings of unarmed black men, an unprecedented Ebola outbreak, as well as a summer war in Israel and Gaza.

Each of those stories, and many others of similar intensity, commanded audiences around the world for their mystery or shock or tragedy or absurdity. And, notably, for their visuals.

The same could be said for the conflict in Central African Republic, which saw some of the darkest days of its independence last year as it struggled to rebound from a coup a year earlier. Among those who committed to documenting the spiral is French photographer William Daniels, who has made some half a dozen trips there over 14 months.

Daniels was initially drawn to Central African Republic because of its unknown complexities and absence in most mainstream media. Landlocked with 4.6 million people, it lies at the center of a bad neighborhood. Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congo are at its south; Cameroon is to the west; Chad and Sudan are to the north; and to the east is a long border with South Sudan, where, away from most front pages of global news outlets, a raging civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

It was March 2013 when the predominantly Muslim rebel coalition Séléka swept into the riverside capital, Bangui, from the northeast. President François Bozizé fled as a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder got underway. Séléka leader Michel Djotodia soon proclaimed himself the successor; he would later lose control of his ranks and an attempt that fall to disband them would do little to stop the atrocities.

At the same time, groups of militias called anti-balaka had begun to form and train and retaliate against Séléka. Their name in the local Sango language means “anti-machete”; their fighters are comprised of ex-soldiers, Christians and animists, who think magic will protect them. They’re adorned with amulets to ward off attacks and fight with hunting rifles, poison-tipped arrows and machetes.

Months of tit-for-tat attacks led to two days of street warfare that December, leaving hundreds dead in the capital and an international community scrambling to react. France swiftly approved a contingent of troops to restore order in its former colony; the soldiers were named “Sangaris,” after a butterfly in the region with a short life-span. Some 5,600 peacekeepers from the African Union deployed around that same time.

MORE: Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic

But the intervention would do little at first to quell the violence. Some critics called the French operation too narrow for its focus on Séléka when anti-balaka shared blame. At the start of 2014, with the retreat of Séléka into the east and resignation of Djotodia, who would be succeeded by popular Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza, anti-balaka began to fill the void. Their retaliation in some cases would eclipse the brutality of what prompted them to assemble.

Reports of atrocities would soon build up, as experts and journalists warned of whole Muslim villages being looted and torched, with their residents being forced to seek refuge in churches, schools and medical clinics. Hundreds of thousands would flee into neighbors like Chad and Cameroon.

A recent United Nations report found that anti-balaka had carried out the ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim minority. As many as 6,000 people had died in the conflict so far, but “such estimates fail to capture the full magnitude of the killings that occurred.” The commission couldn't conclude that there was a genocide but made clear that both Séléka and anti-balaka were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All year, Daniels aimed to unravel the tale of how a people who historically hadn't seen violence along sectarian lines devolved into just that: Muslims and Christians, neighbors, turning on each other because they shared the holy beliefs of those who attacked them, looted and burned down their home, or killed members of their family.

The implosion of the conflict allowed him to dig deeper each time he returned. After covering the more newsworthy unrest in late 2013, he flew back several times last year to bear witness to the grim aftermath.

In February, he recorded the violent assault by anti-balaka on Muslim communities. In April, he documented the exodus out of the country and violence in Grimari, a small town near Bambari that lies at the entrance to Ouaka region. While on assignment then for Al Jazeera America, he captured the plight of refugees trapped in a Muslim enclave, and in September he got a peek inside Séléka.

Daniels admits that the balance of keeping to the news while going below the surface to probe the conflict’s tangled roots has been a challenge.

“It’s difficult to shoot daily life in the street in this country," he says during a call from Bangui in December. "It was difficult before and it’s much worse now because as soon as you show your camera, someone will get upset and someone will ask ‘what are you doing?’ and someone will ask for money. It’s a nightmare and very, very uncomfortable.”

BanguiA Christian man is destroying burn out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that was set on fire earlier, in the capital Bangui.A Christian man destroys burnt out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that had been set ablaze. Bangui, Central African Republic. Dec. 10, 2013. William Daniels—Panos  

Returning to Central African Republic as much as he did last year allowed him to gauge any progress.

The overall security situation in Bangui was less tense in December than early fall, with more shops and markets open for business and more people back at work, he says. “Each time I come back, it’s a bit more.” In the capital, for example, where in late 2013 he photographed a man filled with rage destroying a burnt out car next to a looted mosque, a basketball court now stands in its place.

“It’s becoming better in places like Bangui but that doesn’t mean it’s better everywhere," he says. "And there’s still a potential in many places for a big explosion of violence.” A U.N. mission took over from the African Union force in September and France plans to withdraw 1,200 troops—"we allowed this country—one of the poorest in the world—to begin healing," President François Hollande said—but bouts of inter-communal violence still flare up often.

Thirty percent of the country's population is considered as being in "a moderate to severe food security situation," the U.N. said on Jan. 13, and 440,000 people are still internally displaced. More jobs are needed, too, especially for youths. A recent report by Save the Children estimates that some 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls were part of armed groups, well above the 2,500 thought to be involved at the start of the conflict. And elections, originally scheduled for February, have now been delayed to at least summer.

It's that grim assurance of uncertainty and global neglect, in part, that will keep him going back. Support from grants and hefty stipends helps. In September, Daniels received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography. (Disclosure: This reporter helped shape his entry essay.) And in December, he was named the 2014 recipient of the Tim Hetherington Grant by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch.

Daniels continues to see the challenge of documenting the personal impact of the country's strife. It's easy to get aggravated at the scenes witnessed, but it's his recognition that it'll take time, and patience, and a lot more aid, to turn things around that keeps him grounded and motivated. He may return as early as next month.

“It would be pretentious to say that my pictures could completely change the situation,” he says. “But I think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening here. I think it’s important to keep testifying.”

William Daniels is a Paris-based photographer represented by Panos Pictures.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.

Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

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