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Churches Ransacked as Rebels Take Over Central African Republic

(UPDATED) Top pastor's arrest highlights worsening conditions for citizens 'being treated like slaves.'

Update (Aug. 13): World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that government authorities arrested the Rev. Nicolas Guerékoyamé, president of Central African Republic's (CAR) Evanglical Alliance, for remarks he made about the government during a sermon.

"His comments were reportedly considered 'excessive and extremist… striking a blow at the dignity of the Head of State and at the Institutions of the Transition,'" WWM reports. "However local sources, which remain anonymous for security reasons, said his arrest was linked to the publication of an article in which he inferred that the citizens of the CAR are being treated like slaves."

Guerékoyamé also serves on CAR's National Transitional Council (NTC), an acting government set up following the overthrow of François Bozizé's regime in March. Yet, local media said Guerékoyamé's arrest disrepected his immunity as an NTC member.


Update (July 22): World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that international NGOs are abandoning the Central African Republic (CAR) even as Christian organizations face attacks by Séléka rebels, the name adopted by the groups unhappy with president Francois Bozize's government.

According to WWM, money, computers, and Bibles were stolen or damaged in the office of the Central African Bible Society on June 28, the day before the Bible Society's dedication service for their translation of the Bible into the Sangho language, which is widely spoken in the CAR. On the same day, Séléka members also looted the Protestant Centre for Youth. WWM also noted that the decrease in non-governmental aid has driven many CAR residents from their homes and into the bush, resulting in higher numbers of malaria cases.


Update (April 16): World Watch Monitor reports that 20 people have been killed in the Central African Republic capital city of Bangui, "where an alliance of rebel groups took power last month. Seven of the victims were attending services in the Evangelical Federation of Brothers church on Sunday."


Update (Mar. 28): HCJB Global reports that a partner radio station in Bangui has been "overrun by looters" and "stripped of equipment essential to continue operation."


(WWM) A three-month-old rebel uprising in the Central African Republic (CAR) swept into the country's capital Sunday, ousting the president and leaving ransacked Christian homes and churches in its wake.

Landlocked and largely impoverished, the French-speaking CAR has a long history of unstable, military governments since it gained independence in 1960. President Francois Bozizé, who rose to power in a coup 10 years ago, fled Sunday to neighboring Cameroon.

Several rebel groups unhappy with Bozizé's government joined forces in December under the banner Séléka and within weeks had taken control of much of the country's north, northeast and the central regions. The rebellion swept out of the north, where the country's Muslim minority is concentrated, giving it a militant Islamic character, experts said.

Rev. Leo Tibenda, a priest in the Catholic Comboni order, told Catholic News Service the rebels initially gave assurances they would not target religious communities, but the uprising quickly took on Islamist overtones.

"The general mood here is that the Muslim community has been in collusion with Séléka," he is quoted as saying.

A source close to the Episcopal Conference of the CAR told World Watch Monitor that many Christians' properties have been looted. Cars, electronics and other goods were stolen.

The main Cathedral of Bangui, the premises of Caritas Charity, and the houses of a number of religious communities were targeted by armed men, said the source, who is a Catholic priest and asked not to be publicly identified, for security reasons.

''We live in a great fear," the Catholic priest said. "Séléka's leaders must take measures to protect our premises. Right now, properties belonging to Muslims in our neighbourhood are not attacked.''

Victims say that since Séléka militants overran Gambo and Bangassou in the southeast on March 11, they have increasingly targeted the Christian population.

Msgr. Juan José Aguirre Muños, Bishop of Bangassou, said rebels stole a dozen mission cars, and destroyed a number of church buildings when they entered the town. In a letter sent to World Watch Monitor, Muños said Séléka forces robbed and destroyed the rector's house of the diocesan minor seminary, the carpenter's shop, the internet centre, the Catholic college, the pharmacy, and a new surgery block, among other facilities.

Elsewhere, in Bambari, rebels destroyed a Baptist church, burning church benches as firewood, local sources said.

Editor's note: CT recently visited CAR to report on the "messy business of clean water."

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