Papal visit hoped to heal a CAR wracked by inter-religious killings

Early this month, a documentary by Press TV laid out the violence in the Central African Republic.

The film showed a 350-metre stretch of “no man’s land” that marked the entrance to a mosque in the predominantly Muslim PK5 neighbourhood in the capital Bangui. Inside the mosque were Muslims who had escaped their homes from a blood-thirsty Christian killer mob — the Anti-Balaka militias.

Outside the barricade manned by United Nations personnel that marks the “no man’s land” was a bunch of the militias, lying in wait, preying on the Muslims whom they were trying to smoke out by strangling supplies or medical support.

This is what the country has been reduced to as Christians and Muslims hunt each other down in a bid to prove a political point, deepening the cycle of violence.

It is therefore hoped that Pope Francis’s visit on Sunday — exactly two years and eight months since the fighting began — will bring healing to a land where the violence, according to the Unicef representative to the country, Mohamed Fall, has affected more than two million children.

“This violence is having a devastating impact on the lives of children,” Mr Mall said on Friday.

“We are hopeful that the Pontiff’s visit will promote reconciliation in a country that is in desperate need of peace.”

On the morning of Sunday, March 24, 2013, former CAR president Francois Bozize fled after hundreds of armed Seleka rebels, from the mostly Muslim rebel alliance, invaded the city. This ended his decade in power and was a victory for the rebels, who first launched an attack in December 2012.

Soon afterwards, the rebels’ leader, Michael Djotodia, declared himself president and a purge on Mr Bozize’s supporters, mostly Christians, began. This turned the conflict into a religious one.

September 2013 saw the emergence of the Anti-Balaka — vigilante groups mainly comprised of Christians — in response to brutality by Seleka forces. This sparked a deadly cycle of violence as both sides committed atrocities against each other with murder, rape and maiming being the order of the day.

Mr Djotodia, the CAR’s first and only Muslim leader, lasted only eight months. He resigned in January last year under pressure from a regional heads of state summit.

By then, close to 1,000 people had died with more than 20 per cent of the population, as well as foreigners, having fled the country.

Upon Mr Djotodia’s resignation, the Anti-Balaka militias began a full-scale hunt for Muslims. Armed with guns, knives, swords, bows and arrows, the vengeful gangs drove along the city streets displaying skulls and charred bodies of their Muslim victims.

Peace has since proven elusive, even with the formation of an interim government led by President Catherine Samba-Panza. Elections, already postponed thrice, are expected to be held on December 13 with the hope that they will bring back peace and tranquillity.

UNHCR said last month that more than 6,000 people have been killed as over 400,000 fled the country and 300,000 are internally displaced and live in refugee camps, mainly in Bangui.