United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "honoured" to meet at Headquarters with three religious leaders from the Central African Republic (CAR), whom he described as a "powerful symbol of their country's longstanding tradition of peaceful coexistence."
The UN chief thanked the religious leaders - Mgr. Dieudonne Nzapalainga, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Islamic Council in the Central African Republic, and Reverend Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, President of the CAR's Evangelical Alliance - and warned that their legacy of peaceful coexistence stands "under threat."
The country has been war-torn since December 2012 following attacks by Séléka rebels. The conflict has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones as mainly Christian militias known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) have taken up arms. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed, and 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid.
"Let me be clear," said the Secretary-General: "the conflict in the Central African Republic is not about religion," insisting that "religious and ethnic affiliations are being manipulated for political purposes."
Mgr. Nzapalainga, Mr. Layama, and Rev. Guérékoyame-Gbangou "refuse to be enemies," he stressed. "The international community must support their efforts."
Mr. Ban explained that CAR needs more "more aid to save lives" and "more troops and police to protect civilians," and urged the Security Council to act quickly on those recommendations for a United Nations peacekeeping operation.
"The United Nations must stand with the people of the Central African Republic for peace, reconciliation, justice and accountability," he concluded.