Fear haunts besieged Muslim district of C.Africa ahead of pope's visit

Fear haunts besieged Muslim district of C.Africa ahead of pope's visit

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) – No money, no food, no petrol. But there is fear. Plenty of it.

It is fear that haunts the dusty streets of PK5, a Muslim neighbourhood in Bangui, the Central African Republic (CAR) capital that Pope Francis plans to visit on Sunday & Monday.

Under siege from Christian militia — known as "anti-balaka" fighters — backed by ex-army troops, residents of the city's last Muslim district are cornered amid the burnt rubble & debris of war, hungry yet too afraid to venture out.

p>"Nobody can leave PK5 & go on Boganda avenue without being stoned, kidnapped or killed by armed groups," said a young Muslim who gave her name as Aziza.

"We are all afraid."

The PK5 district, a maze of dirt-red roads & flimsy shacks, epitomizes the sectarian conflict tearing apart impoverished CAR.

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A Burundian member of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Ce …

If security permits, Francis is scheduled to visit its mosque on the last leg of his three-nation Africa tour, his first visit to the continent.

The district was the epicentre of an unprecedented wave of violence pitting majority Christians against minority Muslims that began in late 2013 & has continued since.

One of the poorest & most unstable countries in Africa, the country plunged into chaos after former president Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup in March 2013.

The mainly Muslim rebels behind the coup went on a bloody rampage that triggered the emergence of the equally dangerous anti-Balaka militia in mostly Christian communities.

At the height of the massacres, around one in five of CAR's 4.6 million people were displaced & half the population forced to live on humanitarian aid.

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A Burundian member of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Ce …

"We don't have anything here: vegetables, water, electricity or health care," said local shopkeeper Ashta Babayero.

Residents said they had pleaded for assist from UN peacekeepers in the MINUSCA force as well as from French forces there.

– Cornered, unable to move –

But Ahmat Moussa, moreover a shopkeeper, said international forces were refusing aid.

"Before, the MINUSCA patrols would escort those who wanted to leave, yet it's no longer the case."

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Vatican officials say a last-minute alter to the visit to PK5, a Muslim neighbourhood in Bangui, wi …

"We can't even go to the bank to take out money. Food is scarce & what can we do without money?"

One man said that when his brother attempted to withdraw cash "they kidnapped, tortured & killed him, his body was horribly mutilated."

Political scientist Roland Marchal said soldiers from Bozize's army, officially dismantled by international forces, were joining the anti-Balaka militia.

"They recently switched to the anti-Balaka camp, this is not a satisfactory sign," Marchal said.

The CAR leg of the pontiff's trip has been maintained despite warnings from French peacekeepers there that they cannot guarantee Francis's security.

And Muslim leaders from PK5 have met with the archbishop of Bangui in an attempt to secure as best as possible the locations the pontiff plans to visit.

But the militias patrolling the outskirts of the district do not plan to let up their barricades.

"The residents of the PK5 kill, slaughter & maim men, women & children!" said Herve Ngote, who lives in a nearby district.

"We will maintain this blockade until a solution is found, we will brave the armed Muslims in PK5 & MINUSCA," he said.

Vatican officials say a last-minute alter of programme will only happen if Francis is made aware of a precise threat that could endanger the thousands of believers expected to come & see him, many of whom will be travelling long distances from neighbouring countries.

Aides say he is determined that the sombre context will not affect his plans, particularly in CAR.

Society & CulturePolitics & GovernmentCentral African RepublicFrancois Bozize

Source: “AFP”

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