Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou and his wife Priscilla, in a 2014 photo. (World Watch Monitor)

UPDATE (18 May): As more details emerge, it has been confirmed that it was Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou’s youngest brother and nephew, not his son and grandson, who were killed in the latest eruption of violence in the Central African Republic.

A local church leader told World Watch Monitor they may have been targeted because of Rev. Guérékoyamé-Gbangou’s position as head of the country’s Evangelical Alliance.

An aid worker added: “Two or three ex-Séléka rebels – who have been in the town of Alindao for years and who knew Nicolas’ youngest brother very well – came to his home, and when his older son came out to meet them, one of them stabbed him twice. When Nicolas’ brother heard his son’s scream, he rushed out to see what was happening. That was when the other man shot him four times.”

Rev. Guérékoyamé-Gbangou has not yet commented on the incident, but has promised to do so once the period of mourning is over.

Thirty-seven people are believed to have been killed in all in Alindao, which is 500km east of the capital, Bangui, and more than 100 injured. And while some, including the reverend’s brother and nephew, have been buried, many others have yet to be identified.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that around 10 churches were destroyed or looted in the surrounding villages as the rebels retreated. As many as 3,000 people are also reported to be sheltering inside a Catholic church compound and UN facility.

Meanwhile, in the city of Bangassou, 230km east of Alindao, the Red Cross now estimates that more than 150 were killed over the weekend – a huge increase on the initial UN estimate of 26.

Original article (16 May): 

More tragedy for CAR’s peacekeeping cleric as son and grandson killed in latest violence

A new flurry of violence has hit the Central African Republic, a country many hoped had turned a corner following the brutal civil war of 2013 and 2014.

Amongst the victims of the latest violence were the youngest son and grandson of one of the country’s leading peacekeepers and religious leaders, Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou.

Rev. Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, who is president of the country’s Evangelical Alliance and vice-president of the Council of Elders set up to mediate peace, has also lost his daughter to a stress-related heart condition since the civil war began.

He has been recognised for his peacekeeping efforts, receiving the 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize alongside a top imam, Oumar Kobine Layama, and an archbishop, Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga.

Yesterday (15 May), Mgr. Nzapalainga was at the heart of attempts to negotiate peace in the south-eastern city of Bangassou, his hometown, which reportedly has been taken over by an armed “Anti-Balaka” group (Balaka means “machete”).

Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou receive the 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize. (World Watch Monitor)

One thousand Muslims sheltered from its fighters in a mosque, and the archbishop was shot at as he attempted to mediate and tend to the wounded, who had been prevented from reaching hospitals. Yesterday, those in the mosque were all finally able to leave, helped by UN forces in CAR to keep the peace.

Fresh clashes had also taken place over the weekend in Alindao in the neighbouring prefecture of Basse-Kotto.

A local source told World Watch Monitor: “In Alindao the corpses still litter the streets. The houses are looted and burned. The population is fleeing to the Catholic Church or the United Nations site. Among the victims were the youngest son of Pastor Nicolas and his son. The government is powerless in the face of these attacks.”

CAR has been beset by the religious and ethnic conflict between mainly Muslim Séléka rebels and mainly animist “Anti-Balaka” vigilantes, which has claimed thousands of lives, with hundreds of thousands displaced.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, at least 11,000 have been displaced in the past three months alone.

The predominantly Muslim Séléka militia has split into two main rival factions and civilians have been targeted in apparent reprisal killings. One faction, l’Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC), is mainly comprised of militants from the Peuhl ethnic group, which has given the clashes an ethnic dimension as well. The bulk of the fighting has taken place in Ouaka province, located in a central region between the predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south of the country.

“Unless the UN peacekeeping force in the country acts decisively to bring to an end these clashes, there is a risk that they will spread and the country might then descend into the instability and conflict of a renewed civil war.”

–Yonas Dembele, Open Doors

Yonas Dembele, from the charity Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit, said: “The spike in violence in the central and south-east parts of the country poses a huge security risk for both Christians and Muslims. The civil war, which ended in the precarious peace deals of 2013 and 2014, had been fought along religious lines, and this means that at least some of the reported reprisal killings will have been carried out on the basis of both ethnicity and religion.

“Unless the UN peacekeeping force in the country acts decisively to bring to an end these clashes, there is a risk that they will spread and the country might then descend into the instability and conflict of a renewed civil war.”

However, six UN soldiers have been killed in the Bangassou area in the past week alone; UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called their deaths “an outrage”.

In January 2015, a UN commission reported that crimes against humanity have been committed by all parties, confirming previous findings by the International Criminal Court in September 2014. They include murder, torture, rape, attacking personnel or objects involved in humanitarian aid, pillage, and the use of child soldiers under the age of 15.

In February 2017, the country’s three top faith leaders welcomed the appointment of a prosecutor for a Special Criminal Court. Rev. Guérékoyamé-Gbangou called it a “significant step in the right direction”, but Human Rights Watch says the court still “lacks staff and facilities”.

“The escalating violence in the area underlines the importance of getting the newly established Special Criminal Court up and running,” Human Rights Watch added.