Two of the most senior religious leaders in the Central African Republic have issued a joint plea for a truce between retreating militant rebels and vigilantes who have been taking their revenge.
“May all the brothers carrying weapons hand over their arms,” said the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Msgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, during a Feb. 21 joint appearance in Bangui, the capital, with Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, the president of the Islamic Community in CAR.
“Armed men have moved into places of worship, even into mosques” Imam Layama said.
“The military must disarm everyone, in churches and in mosques.” Nzapalainga said. “Too many Central Africans carry weapons, Muslims and Christians. Arms take no sides.”
The Central African Republic has been beset by violence since December 2012, when a coalition of militant Islamist rebel groups, led by Michel Djotodia under the Séléka banner, moved through the country to eventually drive out President Francois Bozizé in March 2013.
Djotodia disbanded Séléka in September, and as the rebels’ influence waned, a wave of retaliatory violence from self-defence militias known as Anti-Balaka swamped the country. The United Nations expanded the French and African military presence in CAR to help restore order, and Djotodia was ousted in January in favour of Catherine Samba-Panza, the country’s first female head of state. But the killing, looting, and destruction of villages have continued.