Post-pope hope turns to anger after Central Africa Muslim murder
Two years after a coup triggered a wave of bloodshed between Muslims and Christians, many in the Central African Republic hung on to the pope’s words, willing his message to endure.
On the final leg of his groundbreaking three-nation Africa tour, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics Monday urged Christian and Muslim “brothers” to reject hatred and violence as he visited a mosque.
As if in response, daily life — unusually — resumed the next morning in the no man’s land which separates Christian neighbourhoods from the flashpoint PK5 Muslim district — the last Muslim enclave in the capital Bangui where tensions have remained high after more than two years of violence.
Taxis and motorbikes again began travelling between the two communities and even pedestrians took to a normally deadly silent and deserted avenue.
Businesses had opened and, as one young trader, Ali, noted “lots of customers have been coming since the morning”.
Then, in the small Ali Babolo mosque in the heart of the PK5, the body of a young Muslim was brought in, dousing the optimism of those who had come to pray.
Zakaria, 35, was a father of three young children.
“Look at what they have done to us! We want justice!” cried dozens, their eyes flashing with anger.
Issouf Djibril, who heads the traders’ association in the PK5 district, said: “Around 11:00, our brother was in front of the Ibni Qatab mosque, some gangsters came out with arms.
“They fired on him and he is dead.”
The assailants had been just metres from the mosque, on the other side of a canal separating the Muslim and Christian neighbourhoods, several PK5 residents said.
– Pope’s messages of ‘peace, unity’ –
“Pope Francis delivered good messages of peace and unity. We took note to heighten everyone’s awareness and behave well. But they still come to murder our brothers,” Djibril lamented.
Intercommunal violence is a near daily occurrence.
The Central African Republic descended into bloodshed after longtime Christian leader Francois Bozize was ousted by rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka force in March 2013.
The coup triggered a wave of violence between Muslim rebels and Christian militias, plunging the former French colony into its worst crisis since independence in 1960.
Tensions remain high in the capital, where more than 100 people have been killed in tit-for-tat attacks between the two sides since late September alone.
After the murder, Bangui’s Catholic Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, a tireless intercommunal peacemaker, rushed to the area to offer his support to Muslim leaders.
He appealed to residents not to yield to “provocations by the enemies of peace” and resort to revenge killings.
The exasperation felt by the normally calmly spoken religious leader was palpable.
“We call for calm but the state must play its role,” he said.
An inquiry must be opened to establish who was behind the killing and punish those responsible, the archbishop added. “If we continue with impunity, we send a very bad message.”
– Accusations fly –
“This country belongs to everyone, nobody has Central African Republic’s land title… It’s a trap and we ask Muslims not to fall into it,” said Ibrahim Hassane, spokesman for a coordinating group of Muslim organisations in the country.
However accusations already abound among the neighbourhood’s young people.
“It’s some FACA who’ve done that,” claimed one, Issouf, referring to the CAR armed forces, many of whom joined the ranks of the Christian “anti-balaka” militias after Bozize’s ouster.
Another accused big traders in the centre of the city, claiming they finance gangsters to kill off competition.
Like the victim of Tuesday’s shooting, most of the around 12,000 Muslim residents still living in the PK5 district — long the economic heart of the city — are traders.
According to witnesses, Zakaria had gone out to buy medicine when he was attacked.
“We can no longer step outside. Even our dead, we can no longer bury them with dignity, we don’t have access to our cemetery” in Boeing, in the “anti-balaka” district, one old man complained.
“It’s the same with the hospital, our women give birth in appalling conditions.”
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