The World Must Unite to Save Central African Republic from Catastrophe
9 November 2013
We are in a delicate situation in the Central African Republic, and the tension is mounting. There is a terrifying, real threat of sectarian conflict.
On a recent trip to Bossangoa province, I was shocked to discover that village after village had been deserted. People told us they were afraid of the Séléka rebels, that residents were opting to stay in the forest in inhumane conditions because of the brutality Séléka rebels had inflicted upon them.
As we journeyed along the road, an eerie calm enveloped us. And then we stumbled across a group of young people carrying traditional weapons. When we asked what they were doing, they said: "We're here to protect the village from the Séléka, who have come to pillage, rob, kill and rape."
Our group ventured to another village, where we discovered that everything had been burned: the Catholic and Protestant churches, the mosque – everything had been reduced to ashes.
Some 65,000 people are displaced in Central African Republic (CAR) because there is a lack of security. It is heart-breaking to see people trapped away from home, too afraid to return.
The Séléka is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. When they enter a town, they head for the Muslim communities, because Séléka chiefs speak only Arabic, not French or Songo, the two national languages. And when they rob villagers, they force members of the Muslim community to store their loot. This is why some residents are fooled into believing there is complicity between the Muslims and Séléka. But it is a far more complicated business than that.
The escalating situation in CAR has led to the imam of Bombari, the president of the Protestant community, and I to form what we have called a platform for peace. We have visited many villages and our message is clear – we want co-existence. Muslims and Christians must learn to live together in peace.
Irrespective of a person's faith, our group defends everyone, because all humans are sacred. We will not allow rebels to shatter our history of co-existence.
The African-led peacekeeping force, Misca, had been charged with disarmament and weapons collection, but it patrolled with the Séléka. This meant that if the rebels started abusing people, the Misca would withdraw, leaving the civilian population at their mercy. The Séléka would then loot, steal, rape, torture and commit summary executions.
(…) The first thing we need is to disarm the rebels and then we must work with communities on peace and reconciliation, letting them know that it is possible to once again live together in peace.
Let us not forget that CAR is surrounded by other countries, with millions of inhabitants. If it becomes a sanctuary for terrorists, narcotics traffickers, jihadists and bandits, our neighbours will be affected too. To avoid this deadly contagion, we need to act now.
We want the elections to take place, but CAR's civil service has been destroyed – civil records no longer exist, so we have to reconstitute these and carry out another referendum and conduct a census. We hope this will happen before 2015, so we can be assured of credible and uncontested national polls to guide us further along the path of democracy.
CAR is part of the international community, and this community must not allow citizens to be murdered, tortured and maltreated while standing by and watching with indifference.
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