November 28, 2013

​Religious Conflict Rips Through Central African Republic

 ©2013 Religion News Service

A cycle of violence in the
Central African Republic is quickly degenerating into a religious conflict
between Christians and Muslims, amid a deteriorating humanitarian crisis,
church leaders and U.N. officials warn.

The landlocked nation of 4.6 million
people has experienced chaos since March, when an Islamist rebel alliance known
as “Seleka” overthrew President Francois Bozize, a Christian, and installed
rebel commander Michel Djotodia as president.

Seleka was formed in December 2012,
when Islamists and other rebel groups from Chad and Sudan joined forces. The
militants had crossed into the country, attacking government installations and
destroying churches and church missions, businesses and homes, Christian
agencies report.

In the latest development, the U.N.
said Wednesday that some 2,000 people were seeking shelter at a Catholic
mission in the city of Bouca, in the northwest of the country.

Hopes for peace had grown after
Djotodia disbanded the Seleka in September, but sections of ex-Seleka fighters
are still attacking villages and church centers.

Church leaders say the violence is
surging, while U.N. officials say the situation is slowly degenerating into a
Christian-Muslim conflict as the rebels escalate attacks and Christian militia
retaliate. Some have voiced fears of a potential genocide.

“We did not have tensions until the
arrival of Seleka,” said the Rev. Andre Golike, president of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Central African Republic.

The armed conflict has produced
400,000 internally displaced persons and 64,000 refugees. International groups
say people are in urgent need of relief aid.

“The situation is bad and the people
extremely worried,” said Golike. “There are also constant killings and abuse of
civilians’ rights. Many are fleeing to the neighboring countries.”

On November 18, U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a report to the U.N. Security Council warned
that violence in the country risked spilling further out of control. In the
report, Ban’s adviser expressed concern over revenge attacks between Christian
and Muslim groups.

“We must do everything in our powers
to de-escalate the religious tensions between Christian and Muslim communities,”
said Jeffrey Feltman, the undersecretary for political affairs.

The Roman Catholic Church has
reported the most property damage. In June, it lost 28 cars and three
motorcycles in the Diocese of Bangassou, a city in the southeastern region of
the country. A pediatric hospital, a pharmacy and an Internet cafe were also
burned down, Bishop Juan Jose Aguirre of Bangassou reported.