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Central African Republic Archbishop pleads with British government for help

Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga addressing worshipers at the St Jean des Cascades church in Bangui, Central African Republic

The most senior Catholic leader in the Central African Republic (CAR) has urged the British Government to help restore order to a country devastated by a year-long civil war.

Speaking in London on Tuesday Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga urged Britain to lobby for a United Nations peacekeeping force in the country, which has been torn apart by rival warlords. The Archbishop of Bangui was visiting Europe on a peace mission with Imam Omar Kabine Layama, meeting parliamentarians and government ministers.

Archbishop Nzapalainga, who has been involved in peace mediation since January last year, said the situation had become desperate. He said that in his diocese “a lot of hospitals have shortages. There have been a lot of clashes between groups, [there are] a lot of injured, wounded, and people are being treated under tents. No school is running, and a lot of young people are now with their parents out in the bush, where they are confronted with terrible situations. They have no food. [There are] snakes and diseases”.

The war began in December 2012 when the Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim rebel groups, captured towns in the centre and east of the country. Seleka rebels under the command of Michel Djodotia, including militia and mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, overthrew the regime of CAR president François Bozizé last year. Local militias formed to fight the Seleka, known as the anti-Balaka, have also been, involved in atrocities, largely against Muslim minorities, according to Amnesty International. Last month France sent 1,500 peacekeepers, joining 5,000 African Union peacekeepers in the country.

The archbishop said that he and the imam were “touring Europe and Britain to secure the support of the UK government to support a security mission led by the UN. We delivered a message to the prime minister. We would like a UN presence. We’re trying to prevent a general worsening of the situation.”

Although foreign media have labelled the conflict as inter-religious, both leaders stressed the conflict had nothing to do with religion, but was part of a power struggle in the region. The archbishop said the two groups were led by warlords rather than priests or imams and that “they’re not fighting over the Bible or Koran. They are fighting because they want to take revenge for a relative, because their houses are burned down and everything is looted.”

Imam Omar Kabine Layama added: “There was a church protecting Muslims and in some neighbourhoods as well Muslims are protecting churches.”

The CAR, which is almost three times the size of Britain and home to 4.4 million people, is 180th out of 186 countries on the UN Human Development Index.

For an extended version of this report see this week’s print edition of The Catholic Herald