More than 100 killed as militia violence spikes in Central African Republic; bishops warn of country 'sinking into the abyss'

Militia-led violence has spiked in the Central African Republic, claiming more than 100 lives in the past month. Catholic bishops have condemned the atrocities, warning of 'anarchy' and a country 'sinking into the abyss'.

Violence erupted on December 27 between two armed rebel groups, with RJ (Revolution Justice) and the MPC (le Mouvement Patriotique Centrafricain) contesting natural resources around the north-western town of Paoua, according to World Watch Monitor. The ensuing conflict has seen more than 100 killed and as many as 60,000 displaced from their homes.

On January 4, a Catholic priest, Father Alain Blaise Bissialo, survived an assassination attempt after he was stabbed by masked men in the Eastern town of Bangassou.

People hide from gunfire near a church in Bangui, Central African Republic.Reuters

'The painful events which occurred in recent days in some of our prefectures...make us think that our country continues to sink into the abyss,' Catholic bishops said in a statement issued by the Episcopal conference on Sunday, titled 'Hope and despair for our country'.

'Armed packs still create anarchy and impose their laws on a tired civilian population, who don't know where their salvation will come from. In our dioceses we are witnessing on a daily basis this sad reality and deplore the fact that our country is always under the influence of bravado and intrusions of armed militias who do not want the war to stop.'

Conflict originally erupted in the CAR in December 2012, when several rebel groups, mainly Muslim militants, formed a coalition known as Séléka 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 or displaced in the ensuing violence.

The International Criminal Court has previously concluded that there is 'a reasonable basis to believe that both the Séléka and the anti-balaka groups have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, rape, forced displacement, persecution, pillaging, attacks against humanitarian missions and the use of children under fifteen in combat'.

Father Bissialo has been known for peace and reconciliation efforts with Muslims and Christians, and for denouncing militia violence. The bishops' statement condemned the 'cowardly and criminal' attack on his life.

They added: 'We call on armed groups to lay down their arms without untenable conditions, in order to put an end to all kinds of crimes and the suffering of our compatriots, the looting of natural resources and the dysfunction of the state.'

According to the United Nations, some 100,000 people in Paoua are in need of humanitarian aid.