Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RLPB 419. CAR: Islamic militias "more heavily armed than ever".

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 419 | Wed 16 Aug 2017

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by Elizabeth Kendal

simple map of divided CAR (WWM)
Gambo is located 70km west of Bangassou, in the Central African Republic (CAR) prefecture of Mbomou. It sits on what is currently the front-line of one of the world's most catastrophic and neglected conflicts. Gambo has been held by ex-Seleka Islamic rebels for the past four years, but this year suffering has escalated markedly as Islamic rebels have split into factions, primarily along ethnic lines, and escalated their attacks on civilians associated with their opponents. Over recent months the ex-Seleka faction known as the UPC (the ethnic Peuhl/Fulani-dominated Union for Peace in the Central African Republic) has escalated its attacks on the local people, especially women. Catholic news-agency, Agenzia Fides, reports that many local women have been abducted from their homes in front of their husbands and later raped. What else is this but a reign of terror?

The Catholic bishop of Bangassou,
the Spanish Comboni missionary
Juan José Aguirre Muñoz.
On 4 August 'anti-balaka' militias (traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim and now anti-Fulani vigilantes) entered Gambo to oust the ex-Seleka/UPC fighters. Local Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muñoz of Bangassou, told Agenzia Fides that when the anti-balaka arrived, UN peacekeepers immediately opened fire to repel them. When the anti-balaka returned fire the UN peacekeepers started shooting wildly and indiscriminately, hitting many civilians. When the UN peacekeepers pursued the anti-balaka into the forest, the ex-Seleka/Fulani UPC fighters in Gambo town found a Red Cross team holding a meeting in the hospital and proceeded to slit the throats of all men, women and children present. Six Red Cross volunteers, one a Baptist pastor, were among up to 80 victims. World Watch Monitor reports that Pastor Joseph Tokon had gone to Gambo to work as a medical aid worker. In his 50s, Pastor Tokon leaves behind a wife and seven children.

CAR map showing Batangafo and Gambo
'I ask myself,' says Bishop Aguirre, 'why, once Gambo had been saved from the anti-balaka, did the UN [peacekeepers] leave the people in the hands of the Seleka [Fulani UPC]? These so called peace-keeping troops, whose job is to disarm all the factions in the country, did forcefully disarm the anti-balaka but not the Seleka who appear more heavily armed than ever. Here is a sense of complicity which we fail to understand' (emphasis mine). Fellow peacemaker, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama of the award-winning Interfaith Peace Platform, agrees with Bishop Aguirre that the Moroccan contingent of the UN Peacekeeping Mission is 'trigger-happy' and needs to be removed. Human Rights Watch believes the UN peacekeeping force could do more to protect civilians, noting that in many front-line towns 'Seleka fighters openly circulate with weapons'. Of course the hottest question of all must be: 'Who is funding these Islamic militias?'

Peacemaker Church: a place of refuge
Meanwhile, the situation at the Catholic Cathedral in Bangassou remains explosive [see RLPB 407 (17 May)]. Inside the cathedral, some 2000 displaced mostly Muslim civilians huddle together under the protection of priests and nuns. Outside on the footpath, bands of young Muslim men harass the local people while anti-balaka fighters linger menacingly on the periphery, threatening to kill them all. The violence is spread along the front-line, from the south-east through the centre to the north-west. In the town of Batangafo, 400km north of the capital Bangui, two waves of violence through late July into early August left 24 people dead, 17 injured and more than 10,000 people seeking refuge in the grounds of the hospital after rebels torched the refugee camp and looted its supplies. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) project coordinator Carlos Francisco laments, 'Much of the general population is in a state of complete helplessness.' On 7 August the UN warned of the spectre of genocide, in the hope of arousing some interest from outside powers.


* 'Break the arm [means of action] of the wicked ...' (Psalm 10), so that CAR (which is 76 percent Christian) will be spared catastrophic bloodshed, ethnic cleansing and even partial Islamic domination; may those who are sponsoring Islamic militancy be exposed and sanctioned and all channels of funding to Islamic militias be totally broken.

* intervene in CAR to rebuke and chase away (Isaiah 17:13) all foreign jihadists (mostly Chadian and Sudanese); to disarm and pacify all belligerents; to remove all unhelpful powers and troops; and to empower all those who are working to improve security for this massively traumatised population.

* protect and bless his peacemaker Church, amplifying her message of reconciliation, her exercise of grace and her call to transformative revival through Jesus Christ.


The town of Gambo in CAR's volatile south-east has been in the hands of Islamic militants since 2013. Violence has escalated markedly this year as Muslim militias have split into factions along ethnic lines and escalated their attacks on civilians. In Gambo, women have been specifically targeted. On 4 August anti-Muslim defence militias known as 'anti-balaka' invaded Gambo to drive out the ethnic Fulani Muslim militants. As UN peacekeepers chased the anti-balaka into the bush, the Islamic militants in the town invaded a hospital and slit the throats of men, women and children. Church leaders lament that the UN peacekeepers are failing to protect civilians and that the Islamic militants 'appear more heavily armed than ever'. May God intervene; a breakthrough is needed. Pray for CAR and its peacemaker Church.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com