BANGUI, Central African Republic (ChurchMilitant.com) - A bishop is accusing United Nations troops of complicity in a massacre of African Christians at the hands of Muslims.
In a report to Vatican news agency Agenzia Fides Thursday, Bp. Juan-José Aguirre Muñoz of Bangassou, Central African Republic (CAR) revealed Muslim forces slaughtered dozens of Christians in his diocese earlier this month in CAR's latest outbreak of sectarian violence.
Since 2012, CAR has been plagued by civil war, pitting largely Muslim anti-government rebels, the Séléka, against Christian militias, the Anti-Balaka. The conflict has killed thousands of people and displaced roughly a million. Allegations of human rights violations have surfaced, with accounts of summary executions, torture, rape and other forms of sexual assault increasingly widespread.
Bishop Aguirre faulted MINUSCA soldiers for the massacre:
I ask myself why, once Gambo had been saved from the Anti-Balaka, did the U.N. MINUSCA leave the people in the hands of the Séléka? These so-called peacekeeping troops whose job is to disarm all the factions in the country, did forcefully disarm the Anti-Balaka but not the Séléka who appear more heavily armed than ever. Here is a sense of complicity, which we fail to understand.
Central African Republic's current troubles date to late 2012, when Séléka accused lawmakers of reneging on an earlier peace agreement and seizing control of several villages. The conflict escalated in March 2013, when Séléka overran the capital, Bangui, and overthrew Christian President François Bozizé. By August of that year, the U.N. Security Council was warning that the situation in the CAR risked destabilizing the entire region, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denouncing the "total breakdown of law and order" in the country.
The United Nations responded by organizing a peacekeeping mission to CAR. Launched in September 2014, MINUSCA was assigned responsibility for disarming both factions and helping to restore order in the country, which by then was largely divided with anti-Balaka forces controlling the south and west and former Séléka forces occupying the north and east.
MINUSCA'S failure to protect civilians in CAR is the latest disaster for U.N. peacekeeping in Africa in recent years. In 2015, U.N. troops were blasted for failing to protect civilians from genocide in Darfur, Sudan. In 2016, they were again condemned for failing to protect civilians from the civil war in South Sudan.
In the wake of the massacre, residents of Bangassou, the diocesan seat and largest city near Gambo, are calling for the withdrawal of Moroccan troops from MINUSCA.
"These troops do little or nothing when the militiamen attack," a local Muslim leader explained. "Some say the Moroccan military is the cause of several cases of murder because they shoot civilians point blank, calling them militia."
Pope Francis visited CAR in November 2015. While in Bangui, the Pope called for peace between Muslims and Christians. "Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed," the pontiff said, "Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love and peace."
During his Wednesday general audience, Pope Francis condemned CAR's ongoing violence and led participants in prayer for the people of the country.