By Ann Marie Foley - 18 March, 2014
In a meeting in New York with the leaders of the “religious platform for peace”, Ban Ki-moon warned that “Religious and ethnic affiliations are being manipulated for political purposes.”
He was joined at the meeting by Mgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Oumar Kobine Layama, respectively the Archbishop and Imam of Bangui as well as Pastor Nicolas Grékoyamé-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Churches.
The UN secretary general said he was “honored” to meet the three religious leaders, whom he described as a “powerful symbol of their country’s longstanding tradition of peaceful coexistence”.
Reporting on the meeting, Fides said that the religious leaders illustrated the very real situation in Central Africa to the UN Security Council.
The UN Secretary General explained that more aid is needed to save lives and more troops and police to protect civilians.
He urged the Security Council to act quickly on recommendations for a United Nations peacekeeping operation.
Earlier this month in a report from Bangui, Fides interviewed Fr Aurelio Gazzera, a Carmelite missionary in Bozoum, in the north-west of the Central African Republic, where there is violence and reprisals between former Seleka rebels and Anti Balaka groups.
Seleka is a coalition of rebel groups, mostly composed by Muslims, who had taken power in Central Africa in March 2013 and were then were thrown out by Anti Balaka groups, (the history of these groups is complicated but the latter group has been described as a Christian militia) and it was responsible of crimes against Muslims.
Fr Gazzera reported that thanks to the French patrols and MISCA (African Mission in Central Africa), food supplies arrived, albeit with difficulty, from Cameroon. But the situation of refugees and displaced persons is still serious.
“In the Catholic mission of Carnot,” according to Fr Gazzera, “There are still thousands of displaced persons, while most of the Muslims have left because of the violence committed by the Anti Balaka, those who decided to remain are still afraid and few have returned to their villages of origin.”
The religious leaders who subsequently met with Ban Ki-moon also visited the mission.
“The three religious leaders attended the meeting that we have in Bozoum every morning with the few remaining authorities and people of good will, in order to coordinate the management of public affairs. Their encouragement helped us,” Fr Gazzera explained.
In February, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reported on the situation stating that Archbishop Dieudonnè Nzapalainga of Bangui had expressed a resounding “No” to hatred and revenge in the Central African Republic in that face of hatred and conflict.
In the interview, the Archbishop lamented that the Central African Republic hatred had “entered the veins of the people” and he, like the United Nations, expressed concerns about the threat of an impending genocide.
He described visiting a town from which all the Muslims had disappeared.
Yet he emphasised that it was wrong to speak about an interreligious conflict.
He described the Anti-Balaka, who are often described in the media as a ‘Christian militia’ as a “self-defence movement that has now left the politicians behind.”
In another town, the Séléka rebels had attacked the Christian population, and Archbishop Nzapalainga said he was reminded of the genocide in Rwanda when he saw people had been burned alive.
He said that it is vital to restore security in the country, and called on the United Nations to send peacekeeping troops to protect people and said that the current military presence was inadequate, given the size of the country.
The situation is very dangerous, he said, warning that there is a threat of “anarchy, chaos, total disorder.”
The Archbishop pointed to missionaries in particular as “a point of reference” and a “protective bulwark” for the people.
“Through them the people can see God. They also see that the power of love lies in them,” he said.
He emphasised the fact that these missionaries had not been compelled to stay on but had remained of their own free will.
He explained that if the foreign missionaries were to leave, it would mean that the people would have no refuge.