West & Central Africa

Catholic Priest saves 1,500 muslims against militia attack 

Bangassou Catholic cathedral in south-east Central African Republic (CAR) has opened its doors to at least 1,500 Muslims fleeing anti-Balaka militia, made up mostly of Christians. The attackstook place in Tokoyo, a largely Muslim district of Bangassou.

The Rev Alain Blaise Bissialo said the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic was a threat to the Muslims sheltered by the Church. Alidou Djibril one of the Muslims who has taken refuge at the Cathedral said there was a shortage of food and clothes.

“It’s hard for us, we have to stay in the same place, we cannot move, and we are fasting,” he said.

Bob Libenge, acting president of the local branch of the Red Cross, said people are sleeping inside the church hall while many more sleep on mats outside. The challenge, he said, was food and sanitation.

Though the resources are over-stretched, Father Alain Blaise Bissialo said, “The situation is not safe enough to leave, and so they cannot move from here… There are men who walk around town with guns.”

The militia had attacked a mosque where Muslims had run for shelter. Father Alain Blaise saved the Muslims at the mosque by sending trucks to Tokoyo to transport as many civilians as possible back to the church for their safety.
“At last count, 150 people were killed during the violence since mid-May but this number could rise,” said Antoinne Mbao Bogo of the Red Cross.

United Nations Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the UN’s mission in the Central African Republic has warned that though security situation in Bangassou may seem to have calmed down the area was still not safe.

Many have nowhere to go,” said Vladimir Montiero, MINUSCA spokesperson. “It is not safe for them to leave the church.”

A report quoted sources at the UN saying that MINUSCA is worried about a possible reprisal also on the Christian civilian population when Muslim Militia, the Seleka, enters the city despite the assistance given by the Catholic Church.

In tit-for-tat attacks between Christian and Muslim militia  within the same period in May this year the Popular Front for the renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC), a Muslim militia, attacked the predominantly Christian community of Bria killing 60 people. Thousands of people fled the town while those who remain in the town are largely Muslims.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says there are daily incidents between Christians and Muslims in the town which remains tense, economically dysfunctional and in a state of limbo.