Attacks by extremists on Christian villages in the Central African Republic have left at least 15 dead and made around 1,000 people homeless. The raids were carried out by Islamist militia group, Séléka which seized control of the country following a coup in March 2013.
At least 14 villages in Bouar Diocese were completely abandoned after residents fled, Italian Carmelite missionary, Fr Aurelio Gazzera, told Aid to the Church in Need.
More than 970 refugees arrived at Fr Gazzera's mission in Bozoum last weekend (3 – 4 August). The priest visited the mainly Christian villages where the attacks took place, on the road between Bozoum and Bossangoa, on Wednesday (7 August).
He told Aid to the Church in Need: "It was terrible. Many villages are like ghost towns because they are completely empty. Witnesses told me that the rebels had thrown the bodies of those killed in the river." The dead included a five-month-old baby.
Witnesses gave the number of dead as at least 15 – but according to Fr Gazzera it has to be assumed that "several dozen" have been killed. The priest said that predominantly Muslim villages "are not affected by such attacks, or only slightly".
In a sermon at his Cathedral of Notre Dame in Bangui, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga spoke out against the ongoing attacks by Séléka.
Preaching on Sunday 21st July, he said: "I can't remain silent while the sons of this country are the victims of the worst kind of barbarism. I can't remain silent while Central Africans are being tortured and killed, squashed like flies. I can't remain silent while our mothers and sisters are being raped.
"I can't remain silent while the dignity of the Central African is being trampled underfoot, while innocent people are being robbed, while the just and well-earned fruit of our country is being destroyed and looted as though we were in a house of cards.
"I can't remain silent when impunity reigns and a dictatorship of arms is being set up."
Séléka, which means "alliance" in the local Sango tongue, was formed by the merger of six Islamist rebel groups from Sudan, Chad, Darfur and the Central African Republic.
The rebels stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Bangui, on 24 March 2013, forcing President François Bozizé to flee to Cameroon.
A number of members of the political opposition entered into a governing agreement with Séléka and the militia leader Michel Djotodia was proclaimed the new president.
On Monday 12 August prayers for peace will be held by members of the Catholic, Muslim and Protestant communities in Bouar.