Central Africa – Thousands of Muslim Refugees In The Diocese of Bangassou: testimony of the Comboni Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muños

“Two thousand Muslims still find themselves in the Catholic missions. A part in the Minor Seminary, the others in the Cathedral and in the Bishop’s House”, says Mgr. Juan José Aguirre Muños, Bishop of Bangassou, the city in the south-east of the Central African Republic attacked in past weeks by a group of anti-Balaka militants.

“These people are threatened by the anti Balaka who had entered the city in recent days, attacking the Muslim neighbourhood in Bangassou, killing, plundering, and hunting its inhabitants, whose homes were burned”. According to the government, at least 300 people have been killed. Himself, Bishop Aguirre, risked his life when he was defending Muslims. Some militiamen had fired and killed a person next to the Bishop who was uninjured.

“There are two emergencies that we must face: security and humanitarian aid”, points out the Bishop. “What worries most is the lack of security. We are exposed to sudden attacks. On Sunday, May 28th, I was going to the Democratic Republic of Congo for a Mass with a Central African refugee group, when near the Oubangui river bank a woman with five children, who wanted to reunite with her husband, was kidnapped and then killed by a group of men. A brutal attack in which even three-year-olds lost their lives”, says Mgr. Aguirre. ” In Bangassou there is a contingent of Blue Helmets of MINUSCA (UN Mission in Central Africa), but it is not very effective”.

As for the humanitarian aspect, Archbishop Aguirre reports that “there are some NGOs that are helping us to deal with a complicated situation. We had to accommodate two thousand people in the Seminary in only 5 minutes. It was a kind of human tsunami. The creation of a well-equipped reception camp to move these people is being taken into consideration”.

Archbishop Aguirre, who has negotiated with anti Balaka, explains that the assault “is a reaction to the presence of two well-armed groups of Seleka (Muslim rebels), who at the end of last year clashed with each other. Some of these attacked the diocese, civilians and committed serious crimes, including sexual abuse. There are perhaps three thousand anti Balaka and, although poorly armed compared to Seleka, they are very violent and determined. The anti Balaka, born in reaction to the violence suffered by the Seleka, have become criminals, equal or even worse to their enemies”.

“The root cause of the clash is not religious but political. There are neighbouring States that feed the two contenders in order to be able to better dominate Central Africa”, concludes Mgr. Aguirre.

Central African Republic has been plagued by inter-religious violence since 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters seized power and ousted then-President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisal killings from anti-Balaka militias drawn from the Christian minority. More than 400,000 people in the former French colony are displaced internally and 2.2 million, or nearly half the population, are reliant on aid.

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