BANGUI (AFP) – A senior Christian leader on Sunday urged the Central African Republic to take inspiration from Nelson Mandela as he called for reconciliation after a wave of deadly sectarian violence that had turned people into “animals”.
As South Africa buried its first black president, Catholic archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga told a mass attended by around 1,500 people that Christians should not respond to violence with violence.
“Many Christians have said that they are going to seek revenge,” said Nzapalainga as he delivered his sermon in Bangui a day after a Muslim motorcyclist was hacked to death to death in the capital, where residents later brandished his cut-off hands.
“We have become animals, the abuses go beyond reason when someone is killed and his arms brandished,” said the archbishop, before calling on the faithful to take inspiration from the “man of peace and reconciliation” that Mandela was.
Violence between Christians and Muslims has been on the rise since a March coup by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew the president and installed Michel Djotodia, but the unrest has intensified dramatically in recent weeks.
The United Nations has said 600 people have been killed in the carnage of the past 10 days, 450 of them in Bangui, prompting UN chief Ban Ki-moon and local authorities to plead for an end to the atrocities.
Muslim leader Imam Oumar Kobin Layama has also called for reconciliation, saying Saturday that Muslims “must not give back as we were given” as he called for calm following the lynching of the motorcyclist.
Djotodia, the majority Christian nation’s first Muslim president, said Saturday he was ready to “extend his hand” and “talk” with Christian militias on issues including an amnesty for their role in the unrest and including them in his transitional government.
“They are not enemies. They are our brothers,” he said.
Thousands of Christians in Bangui went to mass on Sunday morning despite the still tense atmosphere on the streets of the capital, where French troops are trying to restore security.
Gunfire could be heard at dawn, and there was a report of a Muslim man being lynched by Christians in the south of the capital.
Faced with reports of widespread atrocities in its former colony, France on December 5 decided to deploy 1,600 troops to prop up an African peacekeeping force already on the ground.
The French-backed military force this week began disarming militias — many of them former Seleka rebels that had gone rogue.
But bands of armed thugs continue to roam the streets, and France’s foreign minister said Sunday he would ask his European counterparts for more help.
“Tomorrow I will go to the Foreign Affairs Council (in Brussels) and I will ask that there be more solid, stronger support,” Laurent Fabius said.
He said Poland, Britain, Germany, Spain and Belgium were already helping with logistics and that two of these countries were considering contributing troops.
“There are 4.5 million people in Central Africa, nearly half are in pre-famine conditions. Of these 4.5 million people, there are seven surgeons. So France, Europe, Africans, and the international community must mobilise (for the country).”
Christians make up around 80 percent of the population of the Central African Republic, and lived in relative harmony with the country’s Muslim minority until the March coup.
Fabius rejected accusations that the French army had precipitated the massacre of Muslims by disarming the former Seleka and leaving them at the mercy of Christian vigilante groups.
“The Seleka… still have weapons and sometimes heavy weapons,” he said.
“So the first task is to disarm these heavy weapons. We also go to the Christians to say ‘you must disarm’”, he said.