One of the three most influential religious leaders in the Central African Republic (CAR), who won global recognition for his efforts to end the conflict, has escaped an assassination attempt, even as the capital, Bangui, has seen a renewed wave of violence.
Just a few weeks before a planned referendum, and subsequent October elections that are intended to put an end to the transitional government, the recent violence has prompted the interim President to cancel the elections.
The President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, was targeted during a widespread attack apparently triggered by the death of a young Muslim motorbike taxi driver. The taxi driver’s body, which was found in the predominantly Christian 5th district on Saturday, September 26, was taken to a mosque in the 3rd district, formerly known as a stronghold of Séléka rebels, and a “no-go zone” for all non-Muslims. The motive and identity of the young taxi-driver’s killer remain unknown.
At about 9 am on Saturday, angry Muslim youths left the 3rd district brandishing automatic weapons and machetes and poured into the 5th district to raid and destroy properties. They entered the Elim Church compound, where Rev. Guerekoyame-Gbangou’s house is located, demanding to know where to find the pastor.
“I left the compound at about 8.30. But some 30 minutes later, a group of young Muslims arrived at my house,” Rev. Guerekoyame-Gbangou told World Watch Monitor. “They then told my family to leave the property. One of the assailants brandished a knife and threated to kill my older son, but another assailant prevented him from doing it.”
The angry mob looted the house of valuable items, before setting the house on fire. The assailants also ransacked other buildings on the compound, setting fire to them and shooting at random. “Unfortunately, they killed two people before leaving the compound,” said Rev. Guerekoyame-Gbangou. “The victims, who had their throats cut, were displaced people who had sought refuge within our compound.”
CAR had experienced violent religious and ethnic clashes mainly between Muslim Séléka rebels and animist “anti-balaka” militia for more than two years since Séléka seized power in March 2013. The country had appeared to be recovering after reconciliation efforts by the top Muslim and Christian clerics earned a peace award in August. The recent renewed violence is the worst the capital has experienced this year and has dashed hopes for this troubled nation.
Early in the afternoon on Saturday, September 26, “anti-balaka” (“anti-machete”) militias started fighting back, leading to their deadly clashes with Muslim armed groups and ex- Séléka rebels. Witnesses reported people were brutally slaughtered or shot at close range, and corpses lay strewn on the ground or were thrown into wells. Places of worship and homes were looted and burned. The Catholic Saint Michel church was set ablaze, and Saint Mathias Parish church was ransacked and desecrated.
Attackers also targeted a mosque and a Muslim radio headquarters, as well as several international humanitarian organizations’ offices where they looted relief stock and materials.
The violence continued despite a night curfew imposed by the authorities; the tension was still high with sporadic gunfire and weapons detonations throughout the city on Tuesday. At least 40 people have lost their lives since that Saturday, and nearly 30,000 people have been forced to flee, according to UN sources. But the death toll could be much higher, local sources told World Watch Monitor, as more bodies may be discovered, and hundreds are feared to be injured.
Further adding to the chaos, 500 inmates broke out of the central prison in Bangui, most of whom are “anti-balaka,” according to the BBC.
While condemning this new wave of violence, Rev. Guerekoyame-Gbangou said that the attack that targeted him will not undermine his commitment to peace in CAR. “Any commitment has a price. As a pastor and ambassador of peace, I cannot focus on my interests as a person, or my family,” he said. “The interest of the Central African people is the most important, provided that we are successful in our mission to reconcile the Central Africans and bring peace.”
The other two members of the interfaith platform—the Archbishop of Bangui, Msgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga and the person who leads prayers in a mosque. More Omar Kobine Layama, the President of the Islamic Community of Central Africa—have also made appeals for calm and restraint.
In addition to the violence, hundreds of people demonstrated to express their discontent with the UN and French troops, accused of failing to deal with the armed groups that the demonstrators claim are responsible for the recent attacks.
Rev. Guerekoyame-Gbangou said the urgent priorities right now are to disarm the militias and to restore the national armed forces, enabling them to provide protection for the country from inter-communal violence.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Our Father, God of peace and justice, we appeal to You on behalf of our many brothers and sisters in the Central African Republic. Where there is chaos, restore order. Where there is hatred and violence, soften hearts. Where there is fear, grant wisdom and courage. Where there is grief, bring the comfort and peace that can only come from You. And, where hearts are in rebellion to you, lost in the depths of spiritual darkness, breathe life into them, drawing them to Yourself in saving faith. May those who believe look to Christ in hope, hearing His words in Matthew 5: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” In the Name of Jesus, who is worthy to receive all glory and honor and power, Amen.