MS Risk Blog

UN Chief Condemns Attack on Church in Central African Republic

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On Thursday, the United Nations Secretary-General condemned Wednesday’s attack on a Catholic Church in the Central African Republic’s capital city, Bangui, where at least fifteen people, including a priest, were killed.

Wednesday’s attack on the Notre Dame de Fatima church was a rare large-scale assault on a Christian community in Bangui, with local officials reporting that at least fifteen people, including a priest at the church, were killed.   According to eyewitnesses, Muslim rebels stormed the church, launching grenades and spraying civilians with gunfire.  A police officer and military source have indicated that the violence erupted during the afternoon hours at the compound of the Notre Dame de Fatima Church, where several thousands of displayed people have sought refuge.  The church is located in central Bangui in a neighbourhood where both Christians and Muslims reside.  Archbishop Dieudonne Mzapalainga confirmed that a 76-year-old priest, Paul-Emile Nzale, was killed in the violence.  Witnesses later reported that exchanges of gunfire continued into Wednesday night, mostly near a mainly Muslim neighbourhood of Bangui, where helicopters were seen flying over the area.  With fears escalating that this new bloodshed will spark reprisal attacks on the city’s few remaining Muslims, barricades have been set up in a number of areas.  The attack on the compound at the church is the largest and most brazen attack that has been blamed on Muslim fighters since their Seleka coalition was ousted from power nearly five months ago.  Wednesday’s incident also marked a rare attack on a house of worship, as Catholic churches have served as sanctuaries for both Christian and Muslim civilians.

On Thursday, the situation remained tense throughout Bangui after residents and officials reported that a group of Christian youth destroyed one of the last mosques in the capital city.  A French helicopter was seen patrolling the skies of Bangui while foreign peacekeepers patrolled the streets, firing warning shots in a bid to prevent further hostilities.  Thousands of people also marched in another area of Bangui, shouting slogans against the peacekeeping forces they say have failed to protect them.

Ousmane Abakar, a spokesman for Bangui’s small remaining Muslim community, denounced Wednesday’s attack on the church and has denied that the local Muslim population was to blame.  Speaking to reporters, Mr Abakar stated “for six months we have been the ones subjected to violence and the destruction of our mosques, including the one ruined in the Lakouanga neighbourhood this morning.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also strongly condemned the recent attacks and has encouraged the transitional authority to do “everything within its means to prevent further violence in the capital and throughout the country.”  According to Mr Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, the Secretary-General has also called on authorities to take “concrete measures to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable,” and has appealed to international forces in the CAR “to take all necessary measures in support of these efforts.”

Over the past few months, tens of thousands of Muslims have fled the capital city in a mass exodus following scores of attacks by Christian militia fighters who have blamed them for supporting the Seleka rebel regime, which was ousted from power in January.