Bangui, Central African Republic | AFP | The Archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga, Monday recounted the horrors of weeks of violence which left some 60 dead in the Central African Republic region of Alindao.
“I went to see my dead brothers — they were burned like beasts,” Cardinal Nzapalainga told a news conference in Bangui.
“They burned, burned, set alight children, old people — they were burned, burned to a cinder,” he told a gathering of both Christian and Muslim dignitaries.
“People have lost everything. I saw people scratching at the soil for the remains of torched rice,” added Nzapalainga in a first-hand account of the aftermath of unrest in the violence-racked country.
Violence flared when armed groups attacked the central town on November 15.
An internal UN report last week put the death toll at at least 60 after clashes between Christian militiamen, known as anti-Balaka, and the Union for Peace in CAR (UPC) Muslim militia.
“Have we not elected our leaders to defend us? How did we get here?” asked the cardinal.
“What have we done to deserve this? These are the questions the people are asking” in Alindao.
Last Friday, the head of the UN mission in the country conceded it was impossible for the few dozen peacekeepers stationed in the area to prevent attacks which national assembly president Laurent Ngon Baba said killed “at least 100” people.
For Nzapalainga,” it cannot be that one traipses through the blood of Central Africans to be a minister or to enrich oneself. But alas, this is what is happening.”
The bishop of the western town of Bossangoa, Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia, warned Monday’s gathering that “we are being pushed towards a religious war” and deplored any suggestion that “the church just protects Christians from Muslims.”
Aziagbia firmly rejected any idea that Catholic parishes should be considered as refuges for anti-balaka militia or priests as protectors of such groups.
– ‘Taking pictures’ –
With the northwestern region of Batangafo also having seen recent violent clashes Aziagbia went as far as to suggest there had been either inaction or even collusion between perpetrators of violence and the UN mission MINUSCA.
“When the (militia) were setting fires and killing in Batangafo and stealing from the civilian population the Pakistani contingent of MINUSCA contented themselves with merely taking pictures,” the bishop alleged.
“Similar witness accounts have reached us from Alindao,” he added, pointing the finger at the “Mauritian contingent,” which he alleged had simply stood by “smiling”.
One of the world’s poorest countries, the CAR spiralled into bloodshed after longtime leader Francois Bozize was overthrown in 2013 by a predominantly Muslim rebel alliance called the Seleka.
Much of the countyry remains in thrall to violent militia groups.