- (Photo: Reuters)
The president of the Episcopal Conference of Cameroon said the Roman Catholic Church is the only institution that is still functioning in the war-torn Central African Republic, as he highlighted the violence that has cost thousands of lives.
"The State no longer exists. The only institution that is functioning is the Catholic Church. Actually, the displaced are living in Catholic parishes," said His Exc. Mgr. Samuel Kleda, who is also the archbishop of Douala, according to Fides News Agency on Tuesday.
The African country, where 25 percent of the population is said to be Roman Catholic and a majority is Christian, is reportedly still plunged in chaos due to fighting between Seleka rebels and anti-Balaka fighters. Violence has escalated since interim President Michel Djotodia resigned earlier this year.
The United Nations Security Council said that is authorizing a new peacekeeping force of 10,000 soldiers and 1,800 police to try and restore order and address the conflict that has caused thousands of deaths so far.
Mgr. Kleda, who was visiting Bangui, said that he wanted to "show our solidarity with our brotherly people of the Central African Republic, and to express our friendship and communion to them, and to let them know that we are praying for them so that they should not feel abandoned at this difficult moment."
The archbishop warned, however, that it would be "very dangerous" to "speak of sectarian war in Central Africa," explaining that although there have been a number of Christian-Muslim clashes, the country is not facing a religious war, but what he called a "war of predation" between the Seleka rebels and the anti-Balaka militia.
"To simply say it is a block of Christians against a block of Muslims is very dangerous and this can contribute to the country being divided and even create problems in the sub region," Mgr. Kleda added.
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA, which has people working in CAR, could not comment on the claim that the Catholic Church is the only institution still functioning, but shared with The Christian Post an update on the situation on Wednesday, reporting that Seleka rebels and their Muslim allies have fled the South and West.
"There are pockets of Muslims left in Boda town and some neighborhoods (PK5 and PK12) in Bangui. Because their lives are endangered by anti-Balaka, they have to be repatriated to the North-East or to Chad," Open Doors shared.
"The North and East of the country are still occupied by Seleka forces; in Kaga-Bandoro, Dekoua and Batafango the situation is tense and in Birao, Bria and Bambari an uneasy calm prevails. The non-Muslim population is suffering and Christians are targeted."
The head of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson, visited the Central African Republic this week. He, along with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, and Imam Mohamed Elsanousi, director of Community Outreach for the Islamic Society of North America, were part of the U.S. State Department's peacemaking trip.
"We met with religious and political leaders in a mosque, cathedral, the President's office and the U.S. ambassador's residence. Conversations were candid, direct and hopeful," Anderson said in a statement. "There is resolve to trust God and turn this tragedy for good. My heart is heavy for the Central African people, but I'm hoping for the best to come."
Amnesty International noted on Wednesday that although civilians are being targeted along religious lines, these attacks are not specifically based on people's religious beliefs and practices.
"Not all Christians and Muslims have embraced sectarian hatred. Indeed, many Muslim civilians have been protected by their Christian neighbors, or have sought – and found – protection in churches and Catholic missions. In addition, some Christians, especially women who married Muslim men, have been threatened and harmed by the anti-balaka militia," the human rights group noted.
Open Doors shared with CP that its research and communications manager traveled into CAR and met with a number of church leaders and believers in order to pray with them, hear their stories and assess their needs.
The manager said in his findings that the non-Muslim population has suffered greatly in the civil war, with Christians and pastors targeted because they have been seen as representing the greatest resistance to Seleka's efforts to conquer the country, subdue people and convert them to Islam.
"Most local Muslims sided with Seleka for political, economic (gold, diamonds and oil) and religious reasons and committed gross human right abuses. The non-Muslim population felt liberated by the anti-Balaka and treated the Muslims like traitors much like what happened in Europe to the Nazi collaborators after World War II," the report stated.
Amnesty added that the new government, led by President Catherine Samba-Panza, has included both representatives of Seleka and anti-Balaka militias in negotiations, but this has led to division among the armed groups.
Amnesty has called on the international community, particularly the U.N. Refugee Agency, to help refugees who are fleeing to neighboring countries.
For background on the situation in the Central African Republic, read this.