By: Murcadha O Flaherty
With violence escalating across the Central African Republic (CAR), a priest has condemned UN failure to protect the vulnerable - including Muslims being sheltered by the Church. Father Yovane Cox told Aid to the Church in Need that UN peacekeepers had not taken steps to safeguard nearly 1,000 displaced Muslims from attacks at Bangassou Cathedral's Internally Displaced Persons' (IDP) camp - despite being informed of imminent threats to their safety.
The priest said that Bangassou Cathedral has already been attacked - and they were fearing that a raid on the camp would follow soon. Fr Cox, in hiding for his own safety, said: "The situation is quite critical, because this attack had already been foretold, and yet the UN forces in charge of security here paid no attention to what people told them. It seems almost as though they want to see a massacre here in the cathedral, and in the area where the Muslims are being sheltered."
With mostly women and children sheltering in the Church's IDP camp, Father Cox said: "By the silence of the state authorities and the inaction of the UN forces in not wanting to move the few Muslims still left on this site, they are simply inviting a confrontation between the two groups and a resulting bloodbath. What we are sounding the alarm about and what we are asking them to do is to please relocate them from this site, because it is the only way of saving those still remaining here, who are for the most part women and children."
Describing risks Muslims face when looking for firewood and food, he said: "All around this place there are armed men on the prowl, hoping that one of the Muslims will emerge [from the camp], so that they can kill them."
Fr Cox said anti-Balaka soldiers killed one Muslim on Thursday 18th January - adding that the situation would have become critical, with panic spreading among Muslims in the Church-run camp, but for the intervention of Cameroonian soldiers. Anti-Balaka is formed of non-Muslim faiths groups, including animists and Christians, who are fighting Islamist group Séléka in CAR.
Speaking to ACN at the end of 2017, Bishop Juan José Aguirre of Bangassou said Séléka were "funded by oil countries and supported by the president of Chad." He said weapons were being smuggled into the country from Chad, South Sudan and the DRC, as well coming from "arms deals that are controlled by multinational corporations. They create so-called low-intensity conflicts to enrich themselves."
Fr Cox noted the Church's difficult position - with anti-Balakas viewing the Church as a traitor for protecting Muslims families and Séléka seeing the Church as complicit with the anti-Balakas.
Describing CAR's factions, he said: "There is a mutual incomprehension, a very deep antagonism, and the Church finds herself caught in the middle between them, a perfect target for anybody who has lost control of the situation."
"Nobody is in control - neither the government, nor the United Nations nor the local authorities…"
Speaking of the plight of Christians in the diocese, he said: "We know that our only security is that which comes to us from God… the Christians are for the most part living in hiding in their villages or in the suburbs. They are too frightened to gather in the churches or in the cathedral." He added: "We priests are limited in what we can do and our pastoral work is at a standstill."
Father Cox thanked ACN for helping the Church and others in CAR by "being the voice of those whom nobody listens to, the voice of those who have been forgotten…"
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