CAR rebels siege church, kill unarmed civilians
By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
7/9/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Showing blatant disregard for life and faith, rebel fighters alongside armed Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic killed several people in an attack on a church compound. Thousands of unarmed civilians had taken refuge there to escape the violence that has rapidly encroached one of the African continent's poorest countries.
Between 4,000 and 6,000 Christian civilians live at the the St. Joseph's Cathedral in Bambari. This photo shows them at an earlier Easter Sunday service.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The attack in Bambari, 236 miles northeast of the capital of Bangui, came shortly before French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was expected to visit. A grenade attack had injured seven French soldiers the previous week.
Church officials said fighters from the Seleka rebel movement and armed civilians from the town's Muslim community had invaded the St. Joseph's Cathedral around 3 p.m.
"We don't have the exact death toll yet, but many people have been killed. As I'm speaking to you, they are still there," the Rev. Jesus Martial Dembele, vicar general for the archdiocese of Bangui said. Between 4,000 and 6,000 mainly Christian civilians live at the cathedral.
The Reverend Firmin Gbagoua, a priest at the cathedral says that the attackers suspected that Christian militia fighters, known as anti-balaka or anti-machete, were based inside.
"They came in. They are killing people," a nun inside the compound said during the attack, before hanging up.
One Seleka official said the attackers had been attacked by anti-balaka fighters in a majority Muslim neighborhood. One Muslim civilian was killed in the clash, he said. "All we did was retaliate," Ahmat Negad, one of the group's spokesmen in Bambari said.
In the meantime, the Catholic Church's Dembele accused the French forces of not stepping in to prevent the attack.
A French military spokesman disagreed, saying that French troops had intervened around 4 p.m. and took up positions between a mainly Muslim crowd including Seleka fighters and a large group of Christians when they came under small arms fire.
"We immediately returned fire and in all likelihood inflicted losses on that group," the military spokesman, Gilles Jaron, said. He declined to say by which group he believed the shots had been fired.
"Currently we are present around the bishopric to protect that population," he said.
One Bambari resident said a French military helicopter was flying over the town by late afternoon.
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