West & Central Africa

Pope calls for ‘silencing of weapons’ in Central African Republic

In an address at the weekend, Pope Francis described the sectarian violence in the Central African Republic in which over 22 people have been killed as: ‘Painful news… which I carry in my heart, especially after my visit in November 2015.”

Clashes between Muslim rebels and Christian militias have forced more than 20,000 people into a nearby U.N. peacekeeping base, authorities said Friday.

Doctors Without Borders said the attacks also targeted places of worship and government buildings, with at least 44 injured who were treated at the local hospital since Monday. “These are stirring up ethnic and religious divides,” according to the charity.

A spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force (MINUSCA), Herve Verhoosel said on Monday that over 1,000 suspected Christian were held hostage in a mosque amidst violent clashes in the south east of the Central African Republic but were later set free.

“I can confirm that the mosque is now empty. The last 250 men inside until this afternoon have been transferred out,” Herve said.

A senior evangelical pastor lost a son and a grandson in the latest outbreak of violence in the Central African Republic and the Rev Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, the President of the Evangelical Alliance in the republic and vice-president of the Council of Elders, also lost his daughter.

A local resident said: “In Alindao the corpses still litter the streets. The houses are looted and burned. The population is fleeing to the Catholic Church or the United Nations site. Among the victims were the youngest son of Pastor Nicolas and his son. The government is powerless in the face of these attacks.”
UN mission spokesman Herve Verhoosel said, “UN  troops intervened to stop youths from looting and burning houses in an area where most humanitarian organizations are based”.

He said, “One more time, civilians pay the highest price.”

Reports claim Christian militia also targeted the Muslim in Bangassou.

Pope Francis said, “At times conflict, pride, envy and division leave their mark even on the beautiful face of the Church.” He added: “If there is an attitude that is never easy, is never a given even for the Christian community, it’s knowing how to love, to love one another well based on the example of the Lord and with his grace”.

Francis commended “all those who work for the good of the people and for peaceful coexistence”, and called for “weapons to be silenced and the good will of dialogue prevail in order to give peace and development to the country”.

Central African Republic (CAR) erupted in violence in 2013 when Muslim militants the Seleka overthrew President Francois Bozize. In retaliation, several ‘anti-balaka’ Militia groups made up predominantly of Christians formed to combat the rebels.