Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, we are continuing today with a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the people of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandese genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy. How can this tragedy be forgotten? And nonetheless…
If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.
THE CONFLICT’S EVOLUTION
Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
August and September 2013, following a short, apparent lull in the situation where, in July, the attacks by the Séléka took on a still more violent character. Numerous villages – mainly those in the north-west of the country – were burned down, and followed by numerous massacres. At the present time there are over 400,000 people who have fled or been uprooted, representing close to 10% of the population. On September 13, 2013 President Djotodia officially dissolved the Séléka Rebel Forces, though it had no practical effect. The violent attacks continued, and the promised disarming of the rebels, remained only on paper.
Since September there have been an increased number of skirmishes between the Séléka rebels and the so-called “Anti-Balaka” militia groups. Initially, these were men who had armed themselves in whatever way they could to defend themselves and their villages and towns against the rebels. In the meantime however, the readiness to use violence has risen among these groups and resulted in recent terrible acts of violence and revenge, further escalating the situation, and the problems now threatening to develop into a conflict between religious communities.
October 10, 2013, saw a UN Security Council resolution, a proposal for intervention in the Central African Republic. And then in November, the warnings of an impending genocide grew louder.
November 7‚ ‘Transitional President’ Michel Djotodia, his prime minister Nicolas Ntiangaye and the president of the National Transitional Council, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, signed a so-called “Republican Pact”. The agreement was brokered by the Sant’Egidio community in September 2013, in the context of peace negotiations involving representatives of the new government in Bangui, the National Transitional Council, representatives of civil society and of the various faith communities. However, the signing of the Pact still had no practical impact on the situation within the country.
December 5, 2013, the UN Security Council approved a stepping-up of French military involvement and a reinforcement of the MISCA (or African Union) troops. In the interim, outbreaks of fierce fighting in which 300 – 400 people were killed ensued. Thousands fled, either to the capital or other places such as the mission stations, parishes and convents.
The European Union (EU) set up an airlift to bring aid into the country.
In his Christmas message Urbi et Orbi Pope Francis declared: “Grant peace, dear Child, to the Central African Republic, often forgotten and overlooked. Yet you, Lord, forget no one! And you also want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life.”
The violence and unrest in Bangui and other parts of the country are on the rise, and there are numerous cases of vengeful attacks, also by the Anti-Balaka, against Muslims. Because of this escalation in violence, over 1 million people have been made refugees in the Central African Republic. Among them, over 100,000 who have sought refuge in the capital Bangui. According to the Red Cross, at least 1,000 people of been killed since early December.
The bishops of the Central African Republic continue to criticize representations of the situation in the country as being first and foremost a religious conflict between Muslims and Christians. They insist that it is far more a political and military conflict at hand.
January 10, 2014, Michel Djotodia resigned as transitional leader of the interim government, during a meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States, (ECCAS), after pressure was put on him by heads of states of neighbouring countries, as he was unable to bring the escalating situation in the Central African Republic under control.
On 13 January 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Diplomatic Corps: “I think above all of the Central African Republic, where much suffering has been caused as a result of the country’s tensions, which have frequently led to devastation and death. As I assure you of my prayers for the victims and the many refugees, forced to live in dire poverty, I express my hope that the concern of the international community will help to bring an end to violence, a return to the rule of law and guaranteed access to humanitarian aid, even in the remotest parts of the country.“
January 16, 2014, John Ging, the United Nations (UN) representative for Humanitarian Operations, warned of genocide in the Central African Republic, and drew parallels with Rwanda prior to the terrible genocide of 1994. On January 20, Catherine Samba-Panza, the mayor of the capital Bangui, was elected as the country’s transitional president and sworn in on January 23.
While the situation in the capital city of Bangui begins to stabilize ever so lightly, it is worsening in other parts of the Central African Republic. Over the last few days, the north-western part of the country has seen new theatres of violent confrontations and attacks against its Catholic missions.
“What are the limits of suffering?”