On 25 July 2014, a ceasefire was signed between the two main warring groups in the Central African Republic: a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition known as Séléka, and violent vigilante groups who opposed their advance through the country, which became known as the “anti-Balaka” (“Balaka” means “machete”).
A year later, the Central African Republic may have dropped out of global news headlines, but the suffering of its people has continued.
International intervention by UN forces helped to restore security in the cities its forces occupied, but it left the interior largely unprotected and open for armed militias. UN troops have been accused of not doing enough to protect the local population and even of committing atrocities themselves.
The Séléka rebel movement, together with the local Muslim population (consisting of mainly Chadian and Sudanese migrant descent and Fulani Mbororo herdsmen) continues to dominate the north and east of the country, while the anti-Balaka holds sway in the south and west, virtually dividing the country into two halves.
Despite the peace agreement, Central Africans – particularly those in the northeast – are still tormented by persistent violence. Access to the northeast is very limited, as road travel is impossible and there are no commercial flights.
World Watch Monitor has heard reports of Fulani herdsmen abducting hundreds of people in the northeast, subjecting them to hard labour and using women as sex slaves. The herdsmen also reportedly invaded the towns of Mbres and Bria, where they killed many Christians, burning down their homes and churches and forcing many to flee. Pastors were hunted down and killed.
Below, World Watch Monitor describes the experiences of three Central Africans contacted by an anonymous source, which provide further insight into the horrors still being experienced by Christians.
Lucien Debriel, 48, is a pastor from a village in the north of the country, near the market town of Kaga Bandoro.
“When Séléka arrived in Kaga Bandoro, the sound of gunfire from heavy weapons could be heard from all directions,” Debriel explained.
When he heard the rebels coming, Debriel hid at home with his wife Angelique and their six children, but they were then forced to listen as the rebels killed three of their neighbours and dumped their bodies in nearby boreholes.
Terrified and traumatised, his family fled, joining other villagers hiding in the bush, but Debriel said the stress of the situation proved too much for his wife Angelique, who became ill and died soon after. She was only 42.
“While we were still mourning,” Debriel explained, “one of her family members who belonged to Séléka came into the bush with others and accused me of having killed Angelique by neglecting her health. He said I had to pay a fine of CFAF 250,000 [just over $400].”
Some Christians helped raise money, knowing that the man would kill Debriel if he did not pay up. But they could gather only CFAF 100,000 (just over $160).
“They [Séléka] said the money was not enough … They took my goats and six bags of groundnuts. They also took the church’s musical instruments,” Debriel said.
Séléka returned again a few days later to demand the rest of the money, but Debriel had nothing to give.
“When I told them I had no more to give, they again threatened to kill me and destroyed the church benches,” he said.
Debriel’s congregation begged him to flee to the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp with his six children. There, he found several other pastors. Many report great shortage in food and shelter.
Although Séléka as a group has been disbanded, the Fulani herdsmen who were part of the rebellion continue to rule over the area. The people of Kaga Bandoro feel like they are in a prison.
The Fulani prevent them from moving two kilometres beyond the city to farm or harvest their crops. Instead, those crops have now become food for the Fulani herds.
Some of those who have ventured back to their destroyed homes in search of food have been killed. Out of desperation for food, the locals have sent their women to look for food and firewood, but many of them have been raped at gunpoint – some by one man, some by two, some by up to seven. The effect on marriages has been devastating.
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The town of Bangassou, in the east of CAR, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, was invaded in March 2013 after Séléka defeated the national army. Séléka rebels soon began harassing the local population with the help of local Muslims.
As the main source of authority in the region, this left regional prefect Omer Youmoina in grave danger.
However, Youmoina praises the courage of a group of pastors who decided to confront Séléka. They marched to their camp and asked the rebels whether they were fighting a jihad (holy war) or political war. If it was purely political, they asked, then why were Christians being targeted?
Although the leader of the rebels promised to stop harassing the people, Séléka members came to the home of one of the pastors that very night to rape some of the women under his care. Many more Christians were then killed, women raped and Christians’ homes, businesses and churches looted and destroyed.
After spending two months in the DRC, Youmoina decided to return with his 12 children. At the time of writing, he remains the only local authority to have returned to the town.
Courtesy Open Doors International
Daud is from Bambari, an important market town in the southern province of Ouaka. For almost 50 years, the Christian and Muslim inhabitants lived in relative peace, working together, renting houses from each other, intermarrying, and trading at the same markets.
However, after the arrival of Séléka in January 2013 the situation changed radically. Local Muslims helped Séléka murder Christians, loot their homes, rape their wives, and destroy their businesses and crops. Muslim men who refused to join in were recruited by force. Christians lived in deep sorrow, as most of them had lost several family members.
As a result, Bambari became divided, one half consisting of Muslims protected by Séléka and the other half of non-Muslims (predominantly Christians).
The situation worsened after the anti-Balaka attacks on Bangui in December 2013 because it led to revenge attacks on the non-Muslims of Bambari (in the Akpe quarter specifically).
On 23 December, Séléka burned houses and churches and killed men as they were fleeing to the St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral, which served as an IDP camp for the Christian population. They also fired shots into the camp and threw a grenade into it, which killed 87 people.
Today, churches in the west of Bambari hold services, but those in areas controlled by Séléka do not. Even where churches are still open, Christians often do not attend because they fear for their lives and do not trust the UN to protect them.
Like all Central Africans, Daud’s life has been turned upside down by the crisis in his country, but his conversion from Islam to Christianity made his life even more complicated.
Daud’s Muslim family was furious and sought to kill him. Meanwhile, anti-Balaka members distrusted him for his ties to the local Muslim community. They killed many members of his family; the few that survived were forced to flee.
Had it not been for the protection of his church, Daud said, he would have not survived.
“Some of my family call me and are surprised when they hear that I am still alive,” he said.
*Daud’s real name has been withheld to protect his identity.