1 August 2017

Central African Republic: Muslims Seek Refuge in Cathedral to Escape Violence

Photo: RFI/Laurent Correau
Burnt down houses in Zéré (file photo).

Bangui — Two thousand Muslims have taken refuge in the Cathedral of Bangassou and are being guarded by UN peacekeepers, Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muñoz of Bangassou said July 27.

"Two thousand Muslims have taken refuge in the cathedral, guarded by UN peacekeepers from Morocco," he said, adding he fears for their safety as militants attempted to attack the cathedral on July 24.

"They were pushed back by [the UN peacekeepers] and one of them was killed," said the bishop, adding the fighting over the past week had taken on "alarming proportions."

"Half of the population of Bangassou has fled and sought refuge in the contiguous territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fighting has been going on for days," said the bishop, Fides reported.

Bishop Muñoz said the current round of attacks began on July 21, when the militias - known as Anti-Balakas - kidnapped a young Muslim girl, as a result homes have been torched, people killed, and women raped while thousands of others have fled the violence.

Fifteen Islamic extremists responded by kidnapping two Caritas humanitarian workers and their families, around 30 people in all. They were later freed by the United Nations peacekeeping mission, called MINUSCA.

Afterward, the Islamists attacked the cathedral, causing serious damage. Three UN peacekeepers from Morocco have been killed in the past one week in Bangassou, acts that have been condemned by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

"This incident brings to nine the number of peacekeepers killed in service in Bangassou since the beginning of the year," said a statement by Guterres's office.

"If allowed to continue, the prevailing situation risks undermining the hard-won gains achieved towards lasting peace. The Secretary-General calls on all parties to cease violence and to take action to avoid a further deterioration of the fragile security situation in the country," the statement added.

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