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At least 24 people are feared killed and more than a hundred injured following a fresh outbreak of violence in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), on Tuesday, 1 May.
Until recent weeks, the capital had been considered a safe haven in the war-torn country – the only place the government is in control, with three-quarters of the country occupied by armed groups.
World Watch Monitor reported that the Tuesday attack, in which a Catholic priest was among 16 killed in one church, has shattered this sense of tranquillity. It brought back memories of the earliest days of the conflict, when Séléka rebels entered the capital in March 2013, and the failed attempt by self-defence militias (known as Anti-Balaka) to oust the rebels from the capital in December 2013.
Three weeks ago, 28 people, including a UN soldier, were killed in clashes between peacekeepers and militias in PK5, the capital’s predominantly Muslim area, which is also its commercial hub.
On Tuesday, as President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and his government were attending the official 1 May ceremony marking International Workers’ Day, on the capital’s Avenue of Martyrs, thousands of people from the Diocese of Bangui gathered for a Mass at Notre Dame de Fatima (Our Lady of Fatima) Church, for “oath-taking” on the occasion of the anniversary of St. Joseph.
Some officials, including Tina Touadéra, the First Lady, and Francis Bozizé, the son of ex-president Francois Bozizé (ousted by Séléka in March 2013), were among the attendees.
A number of priests from other parishes also attended, including Fr. Albert Toungoumalé-Baba, vicar of St. Mathias (2km away) and chaplain of the Fraternité Saint Joseph movement. He was the leading priest of the celebration.
It was about 10am, just after the homily, when the first gunshots and grenades erupted in the compound of the parish, creating panic among the worshippers. Some of them managed to flee, but others were hit by bullets and grenades.
Priest among the dead
Fr. Albert Toungoumalé-Baba was fatally wounded. Dozens of others were left on the ground, 16 declared dead including the priest, while a hundred more sustained various levels of injuries and were later admitted into hospitals across the capital.
Father Baba, 71, was known for his commitment to peace in the Central African Republic. He had been deeply involved in resolving past crises, including the mutinies of 1995 and 1996. At that time he was secretary of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Bangui.
He was later appointed vicar of St. Mathias parish, in the heart of the PK5 district. He was officiating the service on Tuesday, as a guest priest, when he was killed.
Fr. Padre Moses, a parish priest at Notre Dame de Fatima, told World Watch Monitor that he is grateful to God that he survived the shooting.
He recalled the dramatic moment which turned the Tuesday Mass into the scene of a massacre.
He said the Mass had started at about 9am and that, an hour later, the first gunshots could be heard in the distance. As the assailants moved closer, security agents around the compound tried to repel them but they were outnumbered.
The assailants started shooting at people who were outside the church because the church was too small and could not contain all the attendees. They also threw hand grenades.
“We are all shocked, everybody is shocked,” said Fr. Moses. “We don’t understand why. Why to kill people who are praying, just innocent people who are praying?”
The assailants are said to be members of a militia group, which has been sowing fear and sorrow in the PK5 neighbourhood.
‘What have we done with this country?’
Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui, condemned “energetically” and “bluntly” the attack on the Fatima church, as he returning from a trip abroad yesterday (2 May).
“I appeal to everyone so that we can have restraint, so that we can also have the self-control, to avoid anger, to avoid hatred, revenge, reprisals,” said Nzapalainga in a statement.
“We have counted our dead, and we continue to count them. We have our injured, our disabled and we continue to count them. Let’s stand up and block the road to the will of self-destruction.”
The cardinal also denounced the spate of violence in Bangui: “Behind these events, I ask myself questions: what is happening? Have there been manipulations, exploitation? Is there a willingness to divide the country? Is there a hidden agenda? Let us look for answers to these questions together.”
He recalled the legacy of Barthelemy Boganda, a Catholic priest and leading politician of the country.
He said Central African Republic is the country of Boganda, the man who gathered all the peoples, all the tributes, all the regions and who wanted the Central African Republic to be a model country.
“For decades, what have we done with this country? Coups, mutinies, repeated rebellions. The result is before us: we have deaths, looting and destruction and the latest dramatic events remind us that violence does not solve our problems,” he said.
Cardinal Nzapalainga also called on the government and the MINUSCA (the UN Mission in CAR) to shed light on the attack, so “that we can know the truth and that justice is also done to the Central African population”.
The Tuesday attack was said to be triggered by an incident involving security forces and a militia leader known as Moussa Empereur, who was injured when security forces tried to stop his vehicle. In a reprisal, his men attacked the security forces and went on the rampage.
An angry mob tried to transport the body of the killed priest to the Presidency, but were dispersed by police. The procession passed through the Lakouanga neighbourhood, where a mosque was destroyed and two men were burned alive.
A local church leader told World Watch Monitor that one of his church members was shot dead in front of his house yesterday (2 May). Earlier in the morning, another dead body was found around Notre Dame de Fatima Parish.
The death toll has continued to rise as more deaths have been reported across the capital. According to the latest figures, 24 people have been killed and 170 injured.
Condemnation and calls for restraint
In the wake of the massacre, other religious and political leaders have called for calm and condemned the killings.
Yesterday, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra paid a visit to Cardinal Nzapalainga at the Archdiocese of Bangui to offer his condolences.
He condemned the violence and warned against attempts to portray it as an inter-religious clash.
“The people must not be manipulated. There are people against peace. They will not pass,” he said. “We will hunt down the perpetrators of this act.”
A nationwide mourning of three days, beginning today – Thursday, 3 May – was decreed.
Imam Omar Kobine Layama, president of the Central African Islamic Council and member of the interfaith platform, condemned the act as one committed by “men without faith” and urged the authorities to stop “those criminals” who think they are above the law.
Almost exactly four years ago (28 May 2014), the parish of Notre Dame de Fatima suffered a bloody assault as Séléka rebel fighters assaulted the parish with grenades and gunfire, killing at least 18 people, including a priest, Fr. Paul-Emile Nzalé, 76, as World Watch Monitor reported.
Many others were wounded or kidnapped – over 30 of them were later found dead.
At the time of the attack, Notre Dame de Fatima was hosting 9,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), including over 2,000 who had moved there only a week earlier to escape from a recent rise in insecurity in nearby neighbourhoods. Others had been staying there since December 2013.
World Watch Monitor learned that the latest Tuesday attack could have been prevented. A day before, there were rumours of an impending attack, to the point where some organisers suggested the ceremony should be relocated elsewhere. But it was decided to keep the celebration at Notre Dame de Fatima, arguing that nothing would happen because it was just a religious ceremony and that security would be assured because several important figures were expected.
Jean, 20, was shot in the stomach. “It was around 10am, just after the homily, when the faithful began running all around, shouting: ‘The Séléka are here to kill us,’” he said.
“In the panic, I was hit by a bullet, and I collapsed. I do not remember what happened next; I later found myself here in the hospital.”
Joseph, 28, was shot in the left arm. “After the homily, we heard a young man who was selling water shouting: ‘The Séléka are there; they have weapons,’” he said. Security forces who were on the scene also warned us to take cover.
“Some of the Séléka climbed into the trees and started shooting. They said: ‘We are going to kill you all.’ I was trying to escape when I was hit by a bullet. I fell down, and I played dead while the shooting continued, in all directions. It was the MINUSCA who drove me here to the hospital. I thank God for keeping my life safe.”
Bienvenue, 40, was in charge of a group 50 young men from his parish of St. Antoine de Padoue. He said that when the police gave the alert, they could not go out through the main entrance, which was already occupied by Séléka and that some of them were shooting from the trees.
“We had to break the wall on the south side of the compound to escape,” he said. “That’s how I was hurt by the wire. There were many deaths and injured. I do not know what happened to the young men I took there.”
Here is what we reported in January of this year:
The Seleka have been compared to the ‘Janjaweed’ a ruthless, souless group of rebel murderers. The Lord’s Resistance Army who also claims Christian roots, and is hunted internationally for horrendous crimes rivaling none. Rape, murder, among countless other atrocities, this terror group is guilty on all counts. They even kidnap and force children to participate as soliders in their wars. So why isn’t the media reporting on this? Why are they not telling us of the true evil established in the CAR?
Lots of unanswered questions, no one seems to be asking. Mainly, they are only reporting on the violence between Christians and Muslims, a religious conflict. These type of headlines seem to draw the most readers. In the meantime, innocent people are being tortured, burned, raped, hacked to death, and beheaded. But the world has no solutions, only sanctions or sanctions that stay on the debate table.
As we have prayed for answers and asked not only questions from the world, but from God. Early on, we were shown the wickedness that lies behind these attacks.
This blackness spreads as death and destruction in Africa grows to genocidal proportions. More and more we see the media starting to take notice, something is not right. Because their readers are demanding to know the truth and calling them out, for further investigation. They are now beginning to scratch the surface to uncover facts.
A few of media outlets are reporting on recent clashes between rebels and the Ugandan Army. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Seleka rebels have been supplying the Lord’s Resistance Army in exchange for precious metals and ivory. This is no secret, we have reported on the vast superhighway of terror in this region before.
We have inquired as to why media outlets continually report about conflicts and slaughter in the CAR as Christian verses Muslim, when the Lord’s Resistance Army has been very active in the region. Their reign of terror has never ended, it simply puts on a new face and goes underground. In fact the US continues to search for the leader Joseph Kony. Seleka and even Anti-Balaka, the latter being touted as Christian militia are now surfacing as supporters of the LRA.
We have asked why the media reports that the Anti-Balaka are Christian without even so much as a question. The gallery below will show the pagan rituals applied by this group. It’s easy to see this is not Christianity. They use it as a cover—drawing in youth and weak Christians who have witnessed great persecution and the losses of property or family members in the conflicts. Revenge encouraged by these militants…in the end a bitter pill to shallow. And the world blames religion for the conflict. Satan working overtime on a blinded world to get the results he wants.
The Anti-Balaka are far from Christian, when in fact they have many of the same rituals and beliefs as the LRA. Since these stories have surfaced, many are speaking out and wanting answers and the real truth.
Remember how the media portrayed the clashes as over and the rebel groups were disbanded. Why does the terror continue against citizens of the CAR? Why is this still happening?
By Lois Kanalos
In December 2012, Michel Djotodia held a key position in Seleka (an alliance of militias) when it succeeded in quickly gaining control of a large area of Central African Republic. Last March, the Seleka, a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition led by Djotodia, overthrew former President François Bozizé from CAR’s majority Christian population. Djotodia claimed himself President becoming CAR’s first Muslim leader and a nightmare began.
The militia group continued committing mass atrocities, such as executions, rape and looting according to Human Rights Watch.To distance himself from the horrors, Djotodia disbanded the Seleka in Sept. 2013. The ex-rebel fighters then integrated into the national army. And the violence did not end.
A September Human Rights Watch report details the Seleka’s deliberate killing of civilians including women, children, and the elderly between March and June. It also confirmed the destruction of more than 1,000 homes, both in the capital, Bangui, and the provinces. The Christians felt forced to form militia groups, which are known as anti-Balaka.
Last month, Christian militias struck back. Amnesty International reports a million people, approximately 20% of the population have been forced to flee the attacks as a result of the violence pitting Muslims against Christians, and northerners against southerners. At least 1,000 people have died since the clashes broke out in December and added the true number of the dead may never be known. They have also expressed concern for the overcrowded refugee camps with unsanitary conditions, warning a humanitarian disaster may be about to occur.
Thousands in the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui are celebrating the resignation of the country’s interim president. Michel Djotodia quit from international pressure over his failure to squelch the rampant violence. He had been summoned to a regional summit in Chad where his resignation was announced along with that of his prime minister Nicolas Tiangaye.
Foreigners were also targets of violence. An operation has been set up by International Organization for Migration to airlift thousands of African migrants stranded in dire humanitarian conditions out of the ravaged nation, today.
IOM official, Francois Goemans said he was shocked by the conditions endured by the migrants, which he said were the worst he had seen in 20 years in the field.
People have been living in makeshift transit camps for a couple of weeks in difficult conditions and with very little support, he said.
“The situation is terrible,” he said. “There’s diarrhea, the sanitation is terrible.
“People are traumatized, people are dealing with some strains that you cannot believe — so many of their relatives have been killed … and they are all traumatized.”
Claims have been made for an urgent need for peacekeeping troops. Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor stated,
“Tensions are going to be particularly high in the Central African Republic in the wake of the interim President’s resignation, highlighting the desperate need for increased protection for the civilian population.”
“Today’s resignation by Djotodia could easily trigger revenge attacks by the anti-balaka Christian militias against the Muslim community. The Muslim ex-Seleka forces are also heavily armed, creating a real risk of the violence escalating even further. The safety and protection of civilians have to be paramount.”
“As inter-communal hatred and mistrust deepens across the country, there has to be clear information, widely communicated to the population, as to what security measures will be put in place next.”
“This unremitting violence has gone on for far too long. Now is the time for more concrete action by the international community for calm and security to return to the country.”
The African Union has 4,000 peacekeepers in the country. France has deployed 1,600 troops to try to restore peace.
VOP: Please pray for those who have been affected by terror in the Central African Republic. And pray attacks and retaliation done by Muslims and Christians will end and they will have peace.
One person has been killed and around 40 wounded after African Union (AU) troops reportedly fired at a group of Christian protestors in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).
The Christians had gathered near the city’s airport to petition for the removal of President Michel Djotodia, the country’s first Muslim leader who took power in a coup in March, and Chadian AU forces thought to be loyal to him.
Meanwhile, some Muslims have protested against the presence of the French army, which they suspect to be backing the country’s Christians.
The AU has nearly 4,000 troops in the country, including a contingent from neighbouring Chad; former colonial power France has deployed 1,600.
Interfaith violence has engulfed the CAR since Djotodia’s installation as President. His coup was backed by Séléka, a Muslim rebel group, which he later disbanded after its members looted, raped and murdered Christians in particular.
However, rebels from the disbanded group continue to fight against militias, named anti-Balaka (anti-machete), which were formed to combat their threat.
The anti-Balaka have been widely reported to be dominated by Christians, but one local church leader suggests this is untrue and is placing Christians at further risk.
“The number of Christians killed in these incidents is continuing to rise,” said the church leader, who wished to remain anonymous. “The anti-Balaka, wrongly referred to in the media as Christian militia groups, are continuing for their part to attack and kill Muslims. Anti-Balaka elements are blending into the general population in the different areas of Bangui, and are threatening those who do not encourage them in their actions.
Another local church leader told World Watch Monitor that at least eight pastors have been killed since the conflict began, up from the previous estimate of three. He added that the Bible Society has been looted three times and Bibles torn to shreds.
Looting of churches, including the Baptist Union Church in the Muslim-dominated Gbaya Dombia district of Bangui, has also been reported.
The church leader said that since the dismissal of Pastor Josué Binoua from his position as Minister of Territorial Administration, “Séléka fighters have been disguising themselves as armed policemen and gendarmes, driving around in police vehicles, and committing acts of violence in various parts of the city”.
World Watch Monitor reported that at least 400 people were killed in three days of violence earlier this month, although the figure was likely to be much higher. Amnesty International reported that more than 1,000 may have been killed.
WASHINGTON – More than five months after Islamist rebels seized control of the Christian-majority Central African Republic (CAR), Christians remain vulnerable to atrocities and the threat of imposition of Islamic law.
Rebel groups and Islamist mercenaries from Chad and Sudan joined forces in December to form a militant coalition called Seleka, which took the capital, Bangui, on March 24 and sent then-President Francois Bozize into exile in Cameroon. Seleka Islamist leader Michel Djotodia took over as president.
“It is clear, according to our research, that it is Christians who have been suffering under Seleka rule and Muslims have been profiting,” Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in an email to Morning Star News from the lawless country yesterday, adding that Seleka agents “have not hesitated to attack Christian places of worship.”
Mudge confirmed that Christian fears about the intentions of the new leaders are not unfounded. Djotodia made a pledge to impose sharia (Islamic law) in a 2012 request for support from the Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The request was contained in an April 17, 2012 letter addressed to the OIC and signed by Djotodia, who denies writing it; Morning Star News obtained a copy of the correspondence.
“God willing and we come to Bangui; we will put in place a regime to apply Islamic sharia law,” Djotodia wrote in the letter, marked confidential, in which he requests material and financial support to overthrow the government of Bozize. “Even if we fail to hunt Bozize, we will transform a part of the Central African Republic, Chad and Darfur into a new Islamic Republic.”
Muslims in Sudan’s Darfur region and Chad support the CAR rebels’ aims, Djotodia wrote.
“After our victory, we will also help them take power in Chad,” he wrote. “We need your support, brothers. It should help us in material, money and homes. We agree that your items come to fight on our side.”
When Catholic and evangelical leaders chanced upon a copy of the letter and forwarded it to the self-appointed president, he denied writing it, according to sources in CAR.
With Seleka attacking priests, pastors, nuns, church buildings and other Christian institutions, the letter brought tensions to a head. The leader of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame, is part of the National Transitional Council, created to act in place of the dissolved parliament; he and other leaders of the CAR Evangelical Alliance fired off a letter to Djotodia on May 10.
“The various atrocities that preceded, accompanied and followed Seleka’s rise to power have been specifically aimed at the Christian population,” says the letter, signed by Guerekoyame and Evangelical Alliance leaders Michel Gbegbe and Anatole Banga. “Churches and Christian institutions have been desecrated and plundered, priests and pastors have been assaulted and nuns raped.”
The letter added that Seleka’s actions have been characterized by “massive and unprecedented violations of human rights in the form of large-scale looting … killings and murders, threats and intimidation, abductions, torture and summary executions, rape of women including nuns, desecration of churches and religious institutions and violence against servants of God (priests and pastors in particular).”
The letter pointed out a Sunday morning when Seleka fighters visited a pastor outside Bangui and demanded that he “leave the area, for a mosque to be built in the place of his church.”
Guerekoyame was arrested on Aug. 6 for criticizing the government from the pulpit at a church in Bangui, in spite of the immunity he is supposed to enjoy as a member of the National Transitional Council; he was released later that day.
There have been several reports that agents of the new CAR government selectively attack Christians, their villages and churches, while sparing Muslims, which account for less than 15 per cent of the population of about 4.5 million people.
Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission, on Aug. 15 called for an immediate end to the breakdown of law and order, saying in a press statement that the assaults “highlight the targeting of Christians.”
Yogarajah condemned the selective attack on Christians and their churches and called on the international community, including the global church, to rally round suffering CAR Christians and give them needed support.
Catholic bishops in the impoverished African country have similar views. In a May 5 statement by the president of the Catholic Bishops Justice and Peace Commission, Bishop Albert Vanbuel said church buildings and workers in the dioceses of Alindao, Bambari, Bangassou, Bossangoa and Kaga-Bandoro had been attacked and people traumatized while rebel alliance members “continue to kill each day.”
“The population is living in permanent anguish, fear, pillage, rape, injustice, violence and the settling of scores,” Vanbuel said, adding that the commission was “alarmed at the continuing acts of barbarity by Seleka elements, especially when power is held by one of them.”
Djotodia has claimed that the atrocities are being carried out not by Seleka but by elements beyond his control.
Vanbuel denounced the new government in Bangui as “a rebellion of religious extremism with evil intentions, characterized by profanation and planned destruction of religious buildings, especially Catholic and Protestant churches.”
The Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, wrote a letter to Djotodia earlier this year in which he condemned the killings of Christians and destruction of their churches by Seleka government elements and urged him to indemnify the church for “stolen, looted and vandalized properties.,”
Nzapalainga also denounced the raping of women and conscription of child soldiers by Seleka forces. He told the president to bring all perpetrators of crime to justice and “declare your true intentions toward Christians.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are more than 206,000 displaced people within the country and 63,000 others that have fled to neighboring countries.
Mudge of HRW said that “the current situation in Central Africa Republic is fragile, and the humanitarian crisis verges on a catastrophe.” Neighborhoods in Bangui, he said, “continue to be attacked and looted by Seleka; villages in the provinces are not spared as civilians are killed and homes are plundered and burned.”
HRW documented more than 1,000 homes destroyed by Seleka outside the capital and scores of unarmed civilians killed in June alone.
“Behind all of this violence,” Mudge said, “the humanitarian situation worsens. Because of a lack of security, humanitarian actors cannot access the most vulnerable; people continue to die in the bush due to disease, exposure and malnutrition.”
Although CAR has suffered sporadic violence and a spate of military coups since independence from France in 1960, observers describe the latest violence as the worst ever.
Christians within and outside CAR have expressed fears over the direction of the Islamic-led government of Djotodia, who was officially sworn in on Aug. 18 with a mandate to complete a transition with an elected government in 18 months. Observers are skeptical of a successful transition given ongoing humanitarian, economic and political chaos in the country, and representatives of various groups are seeking ways and international support to prevent the imposition of sharia.
Read more at Morning Star News
President flees; churches and Christian homes looted
March 27 (World Watch Monitor) — A three-month-old rebel uprising in the Central African Republic swept into the country’s capital Sunday, ousting the president and leaving ransacked Christian homes and churches in its wake. A source close to the Episcopal Conference of the Central African Republic told World Watch Monitor that many Christians’ properties have been looted. Cars, electronics and other goods were stolen. The main Cathedral of Bangui, the premises of Caritas Charity, and the houses of a number of religious communities were targeted by armed men, said the source, who is a Catholic priest and asked not to be publicly identified, for security reasons.