West & Central Africa

Muslims take refuge in Catholic Church but attacks continue

Thousands of Muslims have taken shelter in a Catholic church in Central African Republic (CAR) in a continuation of the protracted conflict between the Muslim Seleka and the Christian Anti Balaka rebels fighting for control in the volatile country.

“There was a spike in violence last month, with more than 300 killed within two weeks in clashes between armed groups in mid-May,” according to World Watch Monitor. More than 2,000 Muslim took sheltered at St Peter Claver Cathedral after attacks by the animist Christian anti-Balaka militia.

“We were driven out by force. We have lost our parents, our homes and all of our belongings,” said Djamal Haddine Mahamat-Salle, Secretary-General of the organization representing displaced Muslims. “It’s been two and a half months since we’ve been here, blocked without the ability to even go beyond 100 metres.”

The circles of attacks and reprisals between the two armies, especially in Bangassou, the ‘Balakas’ (often described as Christians but it is claimed they are mostly ‘animist’) have captured Muslim women.

“In retaliation Muslims (who have taken refuge inside the Catholic church) went out to capture Christians,” a source revealed to the persecuted church agency, Barnabas Funds.

“The situation was very tense. It appears that negotiations have been conducted for the release of captured persons from both sides,” said the source.

United Nations Mission in Central Africa (UNMISCA), operatives have also been targeted in the war torn region. This is because the UN force, also called Blue Helmets, “is discredited in the eyes of the population, as the discovery of armed rebels aboard their vehicles had triggered these waves of violence.”

Backing the accusation against the UN Mission in the CAR, Jean-Claude Gbienza, said the UN peacekeepers also provoked some of the violence. He stated that in May the forces came and started shooting, triggering a local defense anti-Balaka group to retaliate by burning homes and attacking communities.

A victim, Yvette Siolo, said she was hit by a bullet in the hand, when the UN forces opened fire.

This deep mistrust has resulted in the killing of two UN peace personnel in the region. “We preciously exposed this game of bias that is now greatly costing UN soldiers. The inhabitants of Bangassou refuse to disarm as long as the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) are not present on the scene” according to the Barnabas Fund source.

Several attempts to broker peace in the region by the Roman Catholic Sant’Egidio peace group has failed so far.

The Rev Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance, said, “So, from one agreement to another, we don’t know where the country is heading. One should wonder if this deal was initiated by Central Africans or if it was imposed on them purely by the international community… What causes the problem here is impunity, with on one side the ‘godfathers’ and executioners who continue to kill, rape, plunder and commit all sort of atrocities. And on the other, those who have no ‘godfathers’, who continue to suffer.

“Central Africans have suffered a lot and they are waiting for justice. But by turning a blind eye to crimes that have been committed, we risk opening the door to another cycle of violence. Rev Nicholas said adding that the people, “no longer want to continue to count our dead and injured ones. The war must stop,” he declared..

Hassan John: West Africa Editor, GCN

Image Credit: CC by Google image/ ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images(Catholic Church)