Hélène Destombes & Vatican News English Africa Service - Vatican City
In recent days, armed men have launched an offensive in several towns of CAR, particularly on main roads leading to Bangui, the capital, and in various localities in the northwest and north of the country. Hundreds have fled the towns. The Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bangui has called for peace and unity.
Rebels flexing muscle
The United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca), has denounced the attacks as “a deliberate attempt to disrupt elections.” On Friday, Minusca deployed peacekeepers in Bossemptélé and Bossembélé, two localities in the Ombella-M’Poko region which have been targeted in the attacks “led by armed elements of the 3R, the MPC and anti-Balaka.” These three armed groups, which occupy a large part of CAR, announced their merger and the creation of a coalition.
Former President Bozize denies "coup attempt"
The government of President Faustin Archange Touadéra Saturday accused the party of former CAR President, François Bozizé, of formenting trouble and staging an “attempted coup.” The accusations were swiftly denied by a spokesperson of Bozize, on Sunday.
CAR’s highest court declared recently that Bozizé did not qualify as a candidate in next week’s national polls sparking off tensions. The opposition coalition is now demanding the postponement of elections until peace and security are restored. The government wants the election to go ahead.
The situation is now “under control,” assured a spokesperson of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic on Sunday. “The armed groups have left the town of Yaloké, 220 km from Bangui, and are losing ground in other localities,” said Vladimir Monteiro.
Bozize was ousted in 2013 by Seleka rebels, prompting reprisals that then plunged the country into a civil war.
Church: The attacks are meant to instil fear before elections
Father Mathieu Bondobo, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bangui and parish priest of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, describes the unfolding tensions as worrying. The population of Bangui are “living in fear” after witnessing rebels occupy some towns and “armed gangs demonstrating that they could march on Bangui to take power by force.” This offensive, by armed groups, “aims at paralysing the ongoing electoral process” and there is also “a desire to endanger the country’s economy,” said Fr. Bondobo.
A Christmas wish for peace
With Christmas just days away, Father Bondobo, has called for peace and reminded his compatriots that “the country has suffered enough” in the past. He said the people of CAR should be allowed to celebrate the feast of Christmas in the “hope and consolation” of Christ. People, he said, should instead focus on demonstrating solidarity with those who are suffering.
The Vicar General further urged the faithful of CAR to have faith; to “be men and women of prayer and to cultivate unity,” and to make the Central African Republic “a country of peace, where living together in harmony becomes the norm.”
Russia reaffirms support for CAR
A Reuters report seemed to suggest that there were still places where the violence, perpetrated by armed gangs, was still going on, particularly outside the capital, Bangui.
CAR’s President Touadéra, who is seeking re-election, has struggled to maintain stability in CAR. There are many guns in the hands of groups.
In a statement on Saturday, the Russian foreign ministry said a representative had talked with CAR’s foreign minister by phone to reaffirm Russia’s support for the country and its government’s efforts to ensure security.
Pope Francis visited CAR in 2015
Defying security concerns from some Western countries, Pope Francis made an unprecedented Apostolic Voyage to CAR in November 2015.
In a gesture aimed at encouraging peace and reconciliation, the Pope even travelled in an open popemobile right into the Muslim neighbourhood of Bangui known as PK5. The Muslim community and the Imam of PK5 enthusiastically welcomed him. Armed gangs in CAR sometimes stoke relgious tensions for their own ends.