PARIS (RNS) The Central African Republic’s top Muslim and Christian clerics called Thursday (Jan. 23) for a United Nations peacekeeping force to end their country’s brutal conflict.
Speaking at a press conference in Paris, the two said the conflict was not religiously motivated, but warned that only justice and reconciliation at the grass roots can bring longer-term peace.
“All the Seleka aren’t Muslims, and all the Muslims aren’t Seleka,” said Roman Catholic Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, referring to the rebel forces that overthrew CAR’s government in March, sparking a bloodbath that has displaced roughly a million people and killed more than 1,000 in recent weeks alone.
He was joined by the country’s top Muslim cleric, Imam Kobine Layama.
Nzapalainga described their travels across CAR in recent months, trying to preach reconciliation. He cited examples of how CAR’s minority Muslims and majority Christians tried to protect one another.
“We discovered the Muslim community suffered as much as the Christian community,” Nzapalainga said.
The two clerics are using their European trip — they head to London next — to drum up support for a UN peacekeeping force in CAR to bolster French and African Union troops there. They also urged support for the country’s newly elected interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of Bangui and a rare female head of state in Africa.
Earlier this week, the European Union agreed to dispatch 500 troops to CAR and pledged nearly $500 million in humanitarian assistance. The United States has also announced an additional $30 million in aid.
Even with the new support, the clerics said, their country is on the edge.
“We saw many orphaned children. We saw widows and old people who have been abandoned without assistance,” Layama said. “There have been enormous violations. These recent years have left our country in a serious situation and on the verge of famine.”
YS/AMB END BRYANT