Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, a prominent church leader from the Central African Republic, known for his efforts to end the conflict in the nation, has escaped an assassination attempt as a new wave of violence has engulfed the country’s capital, Bangui.
Nicolas, the President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, was targeted in an attack apparently triggered by the death of a young Muslim taxi driver. It is still unknown who killed the young Muslim and why. His body was found in the predominantly Christian 5th district on Saturday 26 September, then taken to a mosque in the 3rd district, known also as Km5 – formerly considered by many as a stronghold of Seleka rebels, and a ‘no-go zone’ for non-Muslims.
At about 9am on Saturday, angry Muslim youths left the 3rd district and poured into the 5th district, brandishing automatic weapons, machetes, and raiding and destroying properties. They entered the Elim Church compound, where Nicolas’s house is located, asking for him.
“I left the compound at about 8.30. But some 30 minutes later, a group of young Muslims arrived at my house,” Nicolas told World Watch Monitor. “The assailants asked for ‘Pastor Nicolas, who is pro-peace … but who always attacks us’. But they learned that I had already left the house.
“They then told my family to leave the property. One of the assailants brandished a knife and threated to kill my older son, but another assailant prevented him from doing it.”
The angry mob then looted all valuable items, before setting fire to the house. The assailants also ransacked other buildings in the compound, setting fire to them, and shooting randomly.
“They killed two people before leaving the compound,” said Nicolas. “The victims were displaced people who had sought refuge within our compound.”
Nicolas’s family were unharmed and have moved to an undisclosed safe place.
The Central African Republic (CAR) has experienced religious and ethnic unrest since the end of 2012. The main conflict has been between Seleka, a group formed of CAR rebel groups and foreign Muslims who were unhappy with the treatment of the Muslim minority in CAR, and Anti-Balaka, vigilante groups originally set up to defend their communities from Seleka but who have frequently carried out revenge attacks on Muslim communities.
Although Seleka has officially been dissolved, groups of rebels continue to carry out atrocities.
It was believed that the country was recovering after reconciliation efforts by top Muslim and Christian clerics. Nicolas, along with Monsignor Dieudonné Nzapalainga (the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui), and Imam Oumar Kobine Layama (the President of CAR’s Islamic Council) received a peace award for their efforts in August.
The recent violence is the worst the capital has experienced this year, and has dashed Bangui’s fragile stability.
Early on Saturday afternoon (26 September), Anti-Balaka militias started fighting back against the angry Muslim youths, leading to deadly clashes with Muslim armed groups and ex-Seleka rebels.
At least 40 people have lost their lives since then, and nearly 30,000 people were forced to flee, the UN said. But the death toll could be much higher, local sources told World Watch Monitor, as more bodies may be discovered, and hundreds are feared to be injured.
While deploring this new wave of violence, Nicolas said that the attack which targeted him will not undermine his commitment to peace in CAR.
“Any commitment has a price. As a pastor and ambassador of peace, I cannot focus on my interests as a person, or my family,” he said. “The interest of the Central African people is the most important, provided that we are successful in our mission to reconcile the Central Africans and bring peace.”
The other two members of the interfaith platform – the Archbishop of Bangui, Msgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Imam Omar Kobine Layama, the President of the Islamic Community of Central Africa – have also appealed for calm and restraint.
Nicolas says an urgent priority is to disarm the militias and to restore the national armed forces, to enable them to perform their task of protecting the country from inter-communal violence.
Source: WWM; BBC
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