On January 23, the Central African Republic’s top
Muslim and Christian clerics called for a United Nations peacekeeping force to
end their country’s brutal conflict.
Speaking at a press conference in Paris, the two
said the conflict was not religiously motivated, but warned that only justice
and reconciliation at the grass roots can bring longer-term peace.
“All the Seleka aren’t Muslims, and all the
Muslims aren’t Seleka,” said Roman Catholic Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of
Bangui, referring to the rebel forces that overthrew CAR’s government in March,
sparking a bloodbath that has displaced roughly a million people and killed
more than 1,000 in recent weeks alone. He was joined by the country’s top
Muslim cleric, Imam Kobine Layama.
Nzapalainga described their travels across CAR in
recent months, trying to preach reconciliation. He cited examples of how CAR’s
minority Muslims and majority Christians tried to protect one another.
“We discovered the Muslim community suffered as
much as the Christian community,” Nzapalainga said.
The two clerics are using their European trip —
they head to London next — to drum up support for a UN peacekeeping force in
CAR to bolster French and African Union troops there. They also urged support
for the country’s newly elected interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, the
former mayor of Bangui and a rare female head of state in Africa.
Earlier this week, the European Union agreed to
dispatch 500 troops to CAR and pledged nearly $500 million in humanitarian
assistance. The United States has also announced an additional $30 million in
Even with the new support, the clerics said,
their country is on the edge.
“We saw many orphaned children. We saw widows and
old people who have been abandoned without assistance,” Layama said. “There
have been enormous violations. These recent years have left our country in a
serious situation and on the verge of famine.”