News / Africa

CAR Crisis Opens Rift Between Muslims, Christians

Julienne Mbetidemo sits outside the remains of her home, burned by Seleka rebels, in the village of Ngangue, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Mbres, Central African Republic, July 27, 2013.
Julienne Mbetidemo sits outside the remains of her home, burned by Seleka rebels, in the village of Ngangue, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Mbres, Central African Republic, July 27, 2013.
Gabe Joselow
As the security situation in the Central African Republic continues to deteriorate, a new unsettling rivalry between Muslim and Christian communities has started to take hold.

Under the shade of a thatched roof, George Fakida and his workers are making knives from scrap metal at a small workshop in the Boeing neighborhood of Bangui.

He says business is going well these days, but a few weeks ago the shop was forced to shut down, when soldiers from the ruling rebel coalition Seleka raided the neighborhood, looking for fighters loyal to the former president.

Residents say the soldiers forced them to hand over televisions, telephones, money and other valuables. The United Nations says fighting in Boeing and other areas of the capital at the end of August killed 10 people and forced thousands to flee.

While the raids appeared to be politically motivated, Fakida believes it was all about religion.

“Almost all of us are Christians in Boeing,” he said, “and the majority of the rebels are Muslim and do not like Christian people. That’s why they came to our area to attack the people.”

Central African Republic is a majority Christian nation; about 10 percent of the population is Muslim.

In March, a rebel movement from mostly Muslim parts of the country overthrew the devoutly Christian president, Francois Bozize, and installed the country’s first Muslim leader, former diplomat Michel Djotodia.

While the country has been wracked by insecurity since independence from France in 1960, people here say religion had never been a factor until now.

Ndiaye Selehou, an imam at the Nour al Yaqin mosque in Bangui, says people have been preoccupied with the violence between the two communities since the rebellion.

“Since Seleka arrived everyone has been talking about Muslims killing Christians and vice versa,” he said. “But it is our wish that we just live in peace."

In an incident this weekend, community militia members loyal to former President Bozize attacked Seleka positions in the town of Bossangoa north of the capital.
The Christian community, the majority in Bossangoa, fled the town, possibly fearing Seleka reprisals.

In another incident in the nearby town of Bouca, Bozize supporters reportedly torched Muslim homes.

The government says up to 100 people have been killed in the violence, although exact numbers are difficult to confirm.

Seleka spokesman Guy Simplice Kodegue tells VOA the Muslim population of the country was long neglected by the former regime, and is still under attack by his supporters.

He says the divisive religious aspect of the conflict should prompt an international response.

“If there is a problem between the two communities, it should mobilize the international community to intervene quickly to reestablish security,” he said. “It is quite like Mali.”

The United Nations' office for CAR (BINUCA) says it is dispatching a team to Bossangoa to document human-rights violations in the area.

The U.N. special representative for the country, Babacar Gaye, tells VOA the office will support any initiative to help bring the communities back to a place of peace.

“My feeling is that the day we return to normalcy, it may take some time, but I’m sure that they will return in that regard to the previous situation," said Gaye.

The African Union has approved a new 3,600-soldier peacekeeping force for CAR, to augment the current peacekeeping mission known as MICOPAX.

Meantime, Seleka’s leaders have promised to push through a political transition that should see new elections within 18 months.

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