Fleeing Christian militia violence, 1500 mostly Muslim civilians are trapped in church in CAR

Around 425,000 people have been uprooted by the fighting in CAR so far.Reuters

After fleeing for their lives, as many as 1500 people – mostly Muslim civilians – have sought sanctuary in a Catholic church in the southeast of the Central African Republic.

The people fled violent conflict in May and sought protection in the Catholic cathedral in the CAR town of Bangassou, according to Al Jazeera.

'The situation is not safe enough to leave, and so they cannot move from here...there are men who walk around town with guns,' said the church's priest, Father Alain Blaise Bissialo.

The mass-flight was provoked when the predominantly Christian 'anti-Balaka' militia began attacking the majority Muslim district of Tokoyo, in Bangassou on 13-17 May.

Many at first sought refuge in a local mosque, until the mosque too was attacked, and its imam killed.

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In a rescue attempt, the Catholic bishop then sent transport trucks to Tokoyo, which brought as many civilians as possible to the cathedral.

At least 150 have reportedly been killed during the violence since the attacks began.

Violence erupted in the CAR in December 2012, when several rebel groups, mainly Muslim militants, formed a coalition known as Seleka and in 2013 overthrew the CAR's then-president Francois Bozize. In retaliation, several 'anti-balaka' (meaning 'anti-machete') groups formed to combat the rebels. Some of these militias – predominantly comprising Christians – began attacking Muslims in revenge. Thousands have since been killed in the ensuing conflict.

The UN reported that most of the 35,000 residents of Bangassou fled the region, some to camps for internally displaced people, while others crossed the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN's mission in the CAR, MINUSCA, said though the violence had calmed it was still not safe for citizens to return home.

The displaced at the church find themselves trapped: unable to leave, and facing a severe shortage of food and clothes.

Vladimir Montiero, spokesperson for MINUSCA said: 'Despite the MINUSCA patrols, the area is not safe enough and their homes and businesses have been destroyed, and so many have nowhere to go... It is not safe for them to leave the church.'

The UN reported that over half of the CAR is in need of humanitarian assistance, with at least one in five Central Africans currently displaced.

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