Central African Republic: Bishop shelters 2,000 Muslims in seminary


Menacing sight - militia outside seminary image: Bishop Munoz

Menacing sight - militia outside seminary image: Bishop Munoz

By: Claire Bergin

Source: Source: BBC/ST/ICN

A Catholic bishop in the Central African Republic (CAR) has given refuge to about 2,000 Muslims who fear possible attacks by a mainly Christian militia. In an interview with the BBC, Bishop Juan José Aguirre Munoz said the refugees are afraid to leave the seminary's compound in Bangassou, a city in the country's south-east region. This is because they risk death from anti-Balaka militias. They sought refuge in May this year after fighting erupted.

Bishop Munoz said: "Nearby, there are anti-Balaka militias who prevent them from going out to search for food, water or firewood. So they are completely confined inside the seminary. They would risk death if they venture out."

He said that they had already killed people who had gone out for food or water and had said they would slit the throat of anyone who tried to leave. “These militants are armed and very violent. They are capable of killing even children,” Bishop Muñoz said.

Bishop Muñoz said the religious ties he shared with the militia had so far prevented them from attacking the refugees but that some fighters were increasingly menacing towards him.

The UN has doubled its peacekeeping contingent in Bangassou, on the southern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. It hopes to free the trapped civilians before long, but the atmosphere at present is described as “volatile.”

CAR, a former French colony, has been plagued by sectarian violence since 2013 when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power. They were then accused of killing non-Muslim civilians. About 425,000 people have been internally displaced, 465,000 have fled to neighbouring countries and half of the population depends on aid.

Fighters have attacked a peacekeeping convoy and an aid delivery lorry in recent weeks. There were at least 33 attacks on aid workers in the first quarter of this year and seven peacekeepers have been killed in Bangassou since May. Last month a Muslim militia attacked a Christian mission at Gambo, 46 miles away, and slit the throats of 50 men and children.During a visit last month, Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, spoke of the “early warning signs of a genocide.”

Frederic Lai Manantsoa, head of mission for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, said: “Any small dispute can spark more violence so we need to be really careful...There are high rates of malaria in the church. The people there are tired and afraid and they want to go home. These people were neighbours.”

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