Central African Republic: Human rights violations criticised
The Catholic Church in the Central African Republic (CAR) has written a letter to the former rebel leader and new President Michel Djotodia raising concerns about his past and asking him to speak out against the suffering inflicted on civilians by his Séléka guerrillas.
Several rebel groups joined forces in December under the banner of Séléka and within weeks had taken control of much of the country's north, northeast and central regions, forcing President Francois Bozizé to flee the country on March 24.
In the letter, titled 'No more things like that… Standing up against impunity', the Church implores Djotodia to break his silence against Séléka's members for acts of violence including rape, looting, extortion and robbery, and to explain the existence of a letter that appears to show Djotodia's desire to turn the Central African Republic into an Islamic republic.
"Why shouldn't you condemn [Séléka's members]? Until when would you keep silent?" the Catholic Church writes, in a letter signed by the Archbishop of Bangui, the CAR capital, Mgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga and fellow senior bishops.
"Wherever Séléka's members have passed, the population is left in tears and sorrows. The inhabitants of Central African Republic cities are subjected to rape, looting, extortion, robbery, vandalism, and other misdeeds orchestrated by Séléka elements."
In a letter to the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Djeddah (Saudi Arabia) in April 2012, a scan of which has been seen by World Watch Monitor, Djotodia introduced himself as the defender of the Muslims' cause in Chad and the Central African Republic.
He told them the two countries "have no respect for us" and asked for support from his "brothers".
"In Central Africa, Muslims are insulted and despised every day and they are considered as foreigners… That's why we decided in 2006 to organise ourselves, thanks to the support of some Muslim brothers from Sudan – to claim our rights,'' said Djotodia, who was the leader of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), a rebel group operating in Northern CAR, a year ago.
In his two-page letter, Djotodia claimed that "all Christians are liars'' and revealed his project for CAR.
"If by God's will, we reach Bangui, we will set up an Islamic regime in order to apply the sharia [law]," he wrote. "Even if we fail to drive out Bozizé, we intend to transform some parts of Central Africa, Chad and Darfur, into a new Islamic republic."
The Catholic Church has criticised Djotodia for not yet denying the authenticity of the letter or distancing himself from it.
''Would you be effectively the author of the letter sent to the Organisation of Islamic Conference in Saudi Arabia, dated 17 April 2012?" the Catholic Church wrote. "How does one explain the fierceness of Séléka against our institutions?"
Acting for peace
The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) agreed on Saturday to more than double its peace-keeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The number of regional peace-keeping forces deployed by ECCAS will be raised from 700 to 2000, with the aim of restoring order in the capital, Bangui.
Two months after Séléka's rebels took power, the country has plunged into chaos. The collapse of the defence and security forces, following the fall of the former regime, has left a security vacuum in the country.
The UN Special Representative in CAR, Margaret Vogt, described the situation as "horrifying and intolerable" in a recent report to the UN Secretary-General.
Vogt, who also heads the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA), urged the UN Security Council to impose individual sanctions against the "architects and perpetrators" of human rights violations in CAR.
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The new authorities have pledged to tackle security issues, but Séléka elements, which are said to be composed mainly of foreigners from neighbouring Sudan and Chad, appear to be out of control.
On Sunday, fighting with small arms and heavy artillery erupted in Bangui, the capital, when a military-police unit tried to retake vehicles allegedly stolen by Séléka elements and hidden in a house. At least four people were killed and others wounded, including a young girl hit by a bullet, local sources told World Watch Monitor.
The persistence of insecurity has prompted the government to seek assistance from France, the former colonial power, whose troops were stationed in the Central African Republic for years.
The current situation in CAR has revealed a social malaise among the population, remarks the Catholic leadership in its letter.
''If not dealt [with] properly, the crisis could have lasting consequences on national cohesion regarding cohabitation between Christians and Muslims," warned the Archbishop's letter, a copy of which was sent to representatives from the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) in Bangui. ''It is an evil that should be discussed before frustrations and resentments become unmanageable."
The Archbishop's message was supported by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, which denounced a ''rebellion characterised by religious extremism, by evil intentions for the programmed and planned desecration and destruction of Christian buildings, and in particular Catholic and Protestant churches".
''All over the country the Catholic Church has paid a high price,'' said the Episcopal Commission, which enumerated a number of violent acts against Christians and their properties.
The dioceses of Kaga-Bandoro, Bambari, Alindao, Bangassou and Bossangoa are among the most hit by rebels, said the Commission.
A number of priests, such as the President of the Episcopal Conference in Central Africa, Mgr Edouard Mathos, and the Archbishop of Bambari have also been attacked, while others have been kidnapped or hunted by rebels. More than 100 of their vehicles have also been stolen, the Catholic Church reported.
In March, nine people were killed in the village of Ouango (close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo) by rebels who set fire to 400 homes, looted the Catholic Church and profaned the tabernacle, reported the Catholic News Agency, Fides.
Protestant churches have also been targeted by looters and armed men. In April, World Watch Monitor reported that three shells fired allegedly by Séléka landed on a church, killing seven and injuring many, including the pastor of the church.
The hostility of Séléka towards Christians has raised the fear that the Central African Republic could become a hub for Al Qaeda.
''My fear stems from the fact that the Central African Republic is a country as big as France, with only five million inhabitants. Now that the little state administration has been completely destroyed, who can control it?" warned Father Anastasio Roggero, a missionary who has worked in the CAR since 1975, in an interview with Fides.
"We are in the heart of Africa, and the danger here that a centre of terrorism is set up is real, in my humble opinion."
The prevailing violence has forced thousands of people to flee their homes. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 173,000 people were displaced internally, and almost 50,000 made refugees – mainly fleeing to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, but also to Chad and Cameroon.