Central African Republic archbishop condemns attacks on Muslims

Muslims flee Bouar in Central African Republic. Credit Aurelio Gazzera/Caritas

Muslims flee Bouar in Central African Republic. Credit Aurelio Gazzera/Caritas

Thousands of Muslim families are being forced from their homes in the Central Africain Republic. Muslim quarters in towns and villages are empty.

Thousands more wish to escape. They are being sheltered in places of worship, including mosques and churches. In Bossemptelé, religious sisters are taking care of 500 and in Baoro, the parish is looking after 2000 Muslims.

Caritas is helping to provide them with food and water. Church staff are also working to ensure their safe passage through the dangerous country should they want to leave.

Armed militias called ‘Antibalaka’ are targeting the Muslim communities. Meanwhile, rival miltias called ‘Seleka’ are withdrawing from parts of the country they once controlled, ransacking homes, hospitals and shops as they go.

Caritas has provided food and medical help, as well as promoting peacebuilding initiatives of the local Christian and Muslim religious leaders. Chief among those pushing for peace is Msgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui and Caritas Central African President. The Central African Republic archbishop condemns all attacks on Muslims.

What’s your analysis of the current situation in the Central African Republic?

One group has decided to take revenge. They’re mainly young people. They have seen their villages burnt down and plundered. They have seen killings, acts of violence and human rights abuses by Seleka.

When I met these young people they talk about fighting Seleka. It’s obvious this isn’t what’s happening on the ground. Now these youngsters are striking Muslim communities. They know Muslims aren’t Seleka and Seleka aren’t Muslims. Similarly we have always said Christians aren’t Antibalaka and Antibalaka aren’t Christian. If people are going after Muslims, it’s for plunder,  revenge and  hatred.

These are human feelings. But behind what’s happening are “shady politicians” who are pulling the strings. Some people have claimed to be the godfathers of these groups.

Under no circumstances has any priest or pastor spoken out in favour of directing or supporting this ideology. I roundly condemn the acts of violence. I also condemn the confusion surrounding this situation. Imams, pastors and I speak the same language.  We’ve made a diagnosis from the outset. Today, the religous issue continues to come into play, but we refuse to be led down this path.

Msgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga meets with Muslim community leaders. Credit Sam Phelps/CRS

Msgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga meets with Muslim community leaders. Credit Sam Phelps/CRS

How can you make people understand?

We’ve refused to take part in this confusion. We ask those who do so, who are manipulating the young people, to assume responsibility at national and international level.

What’s got us into this situation is impunity. People kill and no-one says anything to them. People plunder and burn yet they’re still in good health and continue to move around.

Those who have killed need to be held to account for their actions; this means making amends for these misdemeanours. We believe it’s high time that justice is reborn from its ashes in the Central African Republic. This is the way to restore confidence to the poor who are waiting for a solution. It is a proposal that will bring back peace.

Have you spoken directly to the Antibalaka militias?

After the Antibalaka launched their attack, two days later I wrote them a letter in which I clearly condemned acts of violence as a way to power.I believe that dialogue is the way to settle differences.

All those in this group who call themselves Christians are out of kilter with their faith. You can’t call yourself a Christian if you kill your brother. You can’t call yourself a Christian if you hunt him down.

I’ve welcomed the leader of the Muslim community here. I live alongside him and I ask Christians to do likewise. Love should be a characteristic of Christians. Yet we’re currently witnessing division, hate and revenge that’s diametrically opposed to evangelical values.

You mentioned shady politicians fanning the flames. Who are they?

At the moment, the violence has no bounds. Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, some Christians have also been plundered by the Antibalaka. I met a family in their home, and everything had been ransacked. This means there’s another gang or another leader driving these people. It’s a quest for power. You have to pluck up the courage to say so. You don’t fight to be nearer to God or to defend your faith. You fight to gain power. You fight to show you are the strongest.

Do you believe that the transition government and authorities can tackle this issue?

The government needs resources to become effective and efficient. But this government is faced with all kinds of difficulties. It’s time for the national and international communities to offer it some help. People haven’t been paid for months. The justice system is dysfunctional because neither the police nor the judges are doing their jobs. The duties of the state aren’t being carried out.

What do you think about MISCA (African Union peacekeeping mission) and the French army in the Central African Republic?

Sangaris and MISCA are two missions that came to help us. We’re grateful for that. These missions enabled the situation to be stabilised and the worst to be avoided.

It’s obvious that we have to go further. I’ve just got back from Europe where I advocated for a UN mission. We need more manpower. The security of a country with an area of 623 000 km² cannot be guaranteed by 6,000 men. Weapons have spread throughout the country. These weapons must be recovered. The administration has broken down. The UN mission we envisage and hope for should include a plan to rebuild the machinery of government.

Schools and healthcare facilities aren’t working. They need to be relaunched. The political process has also run into a few difficulties due to lack of resources.

As citizens of the Central African Republic, in order to disarm our hearts and minds and start living together with our brothers and sisters, our primary mission is to reclaim the patriotic dimension. In no circumstances should one be able to take the life of one’s brother or sister with impunity.

Thanks to Vatican Radio for making the interview available to Caritas.


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