(Photo: Reuters/GORAN TOMASEVIC)
At least 30 Christians were shot dead by Muslim rebels in an attack on a church in the war-torn Central African Republic, a pastor said.
"We were in the church when were heard the shooting outside," the Rev. Freddy Mboula of Notre Dame de Fatima in Bangui told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "There were screams and after 30 minutes of gunfire there were bodies everywhere."
Christian and Muslim militias have had several clashes in the troubled African nation since the Seleka coalition left power in January. The fighting between Seleka rebels and anti-balaka fighters escalated following the resignation of interim President Michel Djotodia earlier this year.
International Christian Concern's Regional Manager for Africa, Cameron Thomas, said that the latest violence serves as an example of the ongoing "culture of reprisal" that has gripped CAR.
"As anti-balaka militias continue to commit attacks against both militants and civilians, with Séléka remnants returning such attacks in kind, innocent civilians, including Christians seeking refuge behind church walls, continue to suffer the consequences of growing sectarian violence," Thomas said.
"The future of the Central African Republic will continue to darken so long as the international community does not take decisive action to stem the ongoing violence and bring about the necessary resolution to prevent future attacks."
Reuters reported that youths have set up barricades on roads in Ghana on Thursday to protest the church attack.
"People need to understand that we will crack down on them and bring them before national or international justice. We will have zero tolerance for the authors of this kind of act," said Francis Che, head of communications for the African Union peacekeeping force MISCA.
The president of the Episcopal Conference of Cameroon said in April that the Roman Catholic Church is the only institution that is still functioning in CAR.
"The State no longer exists. The only institution that is functioning is the Catholic Church. Actually, the displaced are living in Catholic parishes," His Exc. Mgr. Samuel Kleda, who is also the archbishop of Douala, said in an interview.
According to statistics, 25 percent of the population is said to be Roman Catholic, while another 25 percent is Protestant.
Other persecution watchdog groups, such as Open Doors, have also said that Christians face an increasingly dangerous existence in the African country. The group lists CAR as No. 16 on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
In February, one of Open Doors' field directors for west and central Africa, said that thousands of people are fleeing the sectarian violence and hiding in churches and mosques.
"We would need the help of other organizations and an escort to visit those sites. So until we can have that organized, we decided to stick to the areas more easily accessible which include some of the refugee camps scattered across the city. First, we visited the displaced at two church compounds. As we entered the first camp, I was moved with compassion when I saw the difficult circumstances people are enduring," the field director said.