Anxiety High as Rebels Take Over Central African Republic

March 27, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Central Africa

A three-month-old rebel uprising in the Central African Republic swept into the country’s capital of Bangui on Sunday, ousting the president and leaving Christian homes and churches ransacked in its wake.

A source close to the Episcopal Conference of the Central African Republic told World Watch Monitor that looters stole cars, electronics and other goods from many Christians’ properties. Armed men targeted the main Cathedral of Bangui and houses belonging to members of several religious communities, according to a Catholic spokesperson.

Several rebel groups unhappy with the government of President Francois Bozize joined forces in December under the banner Seleka to create a formidable united opposition. In a matter of weeks, they took control of much of the country’s north, northeast and the central regions.

Since independence, the former French colony has been shaken by numerous military coups and rebellions. Bozize came to power in 2003 following a rebellion that deposed Ange-Felix Patasse. A number of peace deals over the years have failed to bring lasting stability. Despite its considerable natural resources of uranium, diamonds, gold, timber, cotton and coffee, the CAR is one of Africa’s poorest countries.

The fallout from crippling political crises, including active rebellions, facing most of the Central African Republic’s neighbors-South Sudan, Chad, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo-have compounded the country’s climate of instability.

The latest truce between rebels and the Bozize government, signed in Libreville, Gabon, lasted less than three months. On March 21, one day after the expiration of a 72-hour ultimatum given to Bozize to comply with the terms of the truce, rebels resumed their push towards the capital.

The rapid advance of Seleka fighters prompted several African countries from as far away as South Africa to intervene. Troops from Chad, Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Gabon, tasked with protecting the capital Bangui, were unable to stop the advancing rebels.

The rebellion swept down from the north where the country’s Muslim minority is concentrated, giving it a militant Islamic character, experts said. “Given the rebellion’s origins in the north, we can assume there are many Muslims in their ranks” said Roland Marchal, a sub-Saharan researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, in published news accounts.

It is difficult to evaluate the extent of the looting, Marchal said, because communication systems are down and many residents have restricted their movements. Water and power supplies have been suspended, plunging the capital into darkness. Local sources report that the main detention center in Bangui was attacked and its occupants freed, adding to the climate of fear. A curfew has been imposed.

Victims say that since Seleka militants overran Gambo and Bangassou in the southeast on March 11, they have increasingly targeted the Christian population. Msgr. Juan Jose Aguirre Mus, Bishop of Bangassou, said rebels stole a dozen of the mission’s cars and destroyed a number of church buildings when they entered the town.

According to a letter sent to World Watch Monitor, Mus said Seleka forces robbed and destroyed the rector’s house, the carpenter’s shop, the internet center, the Catholic college, the pharmacy and a new surgery block, among other facilities. The mission mechanic, Jean Marie, was severely beaten because he would not reveal where some automobiles were hidden.

Rebels also targeted government buildings such as the Bangassou town hall. As they ransacked medical facilities, Mus said they threw patients to the floor to steal their mattresses. By contrast, he said, ”they respected only mosques and Muslim traders, to whom they gave our goods to sell.”

Rev. Leo Tibenda, a priest in the Catholic Comboni order, told Catholic News Service the rebels initially gave assurances they would not target religious communities, but the uprising quickly took on Islamist overtones. “They started victimizing local Christians, telling them their cattle, many given by the church via Caritas, now belonged to the state. Most wear turbans, which isn’t the custom here, and are much better armed than the government’s soldiers. Their presence is fuelling serious tension between local Christians and Muslims,” Tibenda told Catholic News Service. “The general mood here is that the Muslim community has been in collusion with Seleka.”

The uncertainty in the capital reverberates throughout the country as citizens await the action of this latest government. The self-proclaimed new president of the Central African Republic, Michel Djotodia, has pledged to respect the Libreville peace deal, according to French media. He expressed willingness to form a national unity government and hold elections in three years.

In the midst of instability and rebel attacks, Father, we pray Your peace to descend on the people of the Central African Republic. We pray for much wisdom, discernment and courage for Christians in the wake of attacks by Islamic extremists. Protect them and provide for their needs in the loss of homes, vehicles and cattle. May Your righteousness and hope radiate in the lives of Christians in CAR and may the gospel message extend Your truth and grace over this troubled land. In the name of Jesus, the light that dispels even the blackest darkness, Amen.

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