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Violence Escalates Among Christian, Muslim Groups in Central African Republic Ahead of Pope Francis Visit

( [email protected] ) Nov 02, 2015 09:51 AM EST
Armed men in the capital of Central African Republic slit a person's throat and set fire to scores of homes, in a cycle of violence that could further delay elections and prevent a visit this month by Pope Francis.
REUTERS/Roch Bouka

Armed men in the capital of Central African Republic slit a person's throat and set fire to scores of homes, in a cycle of violence that could further delay elections and prevent a visit this month by Pope Francis.

Witnesses said hundreds of people fled their homes in Bangui on Monday after the weekend's attack by men from the mainly Muslim PK-5 neighborhood in which more than a dozen people were also shot and wounded.

It was not immediately clear who the targets and attackers were, but the violence is part of a pattern in which at least 90 people have been killed since late September - after a Muslim man was found murdered.

The majority Christian country plunged into tumult when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a coup in 2013, prompting lethal reprisals by Christian militias known as anti-balaka, and repeated bouts of bloodletting since then.

The latest attack appeared to be retaliation for a mob attack on PK-5 on Thursday in which four people were killed.

The pope is due to visit Bangui on Nov. 28-29 and go to a mosque in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods, but he hinted in an address on Sunday that the violence might lead him to cancel the trip.

Families in the Fatima district grabbed bedding and a few possessions and headed to camps for displaced people or to stay with families in the city's south, where priests had mobilized to welcome them, witnesses said.

"There is no disarmament in Central Africa. That is why the war still goes on," said Eugene Gazalima, a farmer and resident of the Fatima district. "If we had the disarmament, this war could not go on like that."

U.N. peacekeepers have been stationed in PK-5 since last year. Tens of thousands of Muslims were driven from their homes in the capital last year by anti-balaka groups.

Authorities delayed presidential and parliamentary elections, in part because of the unrest, to Dec. 13, and they may be pushed back yet further if the spike in violence persists.

A peace deal signed in May between 10 armed groups required them to disarm and possibly be charged with war crimes during the two-year conflict, but the brief optimism from the accord seems to have run out.

Nearly 400,000 people have fled to camps during the conflict, and an additional 440,000 have sought refuge in neighboring countries, according to an October report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

 

(Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Alison Williams)