Sunday, January 5, 2014

Issue of Christian Persecution "Overlooked" in CAR Conflict

International Christian Concern — 1/4/2014

ICC Note:

Christian charity Open Doors International has concluded that the international media is overlooking the issue of Christian persecution and is wrongly focusing on the 'interfaith' element of the current conflict in the Central African Republic. In 2013, an Islamic rebel group called Seleka took control of the Central African Republic and began to persecute Christians. Now, the conflict between Seleka and other groups called anti-Balaka has been branded as a conflict between Christians and Muslims. Open Doors International claims that this is incorrect and that the issue of Christians persecution is easily supported by reports coming out of the Central African Republic. 

1/4/2013 Central African Republic (World Watch Monitor) - The vulnerability of Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) is being overlooked, even as international media wrongly focus on the ‘interfaith’ element of the conflict, says Open Doors International.

The charity facilitated a key meeting in Oct. 2013 of all major Christian leaders, who then appealed for international intervention. Now in its detailed report, Vulnerability Assessment of Christians in the Central African Republic, the charity says there is strong evidence that Christians have been specifically targeted since the March coup that brought Séléka leader Michel Djotodia to power.

Last week Christians gathered at the capital city’s airport to protest against Djotodia’s rule, and violence continues between rebels from the now-disbanded Séléka rebel group and self-defence militias named ‘Anti-Balaka’ (Anti-Machete).

The Anti-Balaka groups have been widely reported to be Christian-dominated, but World Watch Monitor reported last week that CAR’s Christian leaders vehemently deny this is the case.

Children’s charity Unicef reported on Dec. 30 that the violence has “sunk to a vicious new low” after reported beheadings of children. Open Doors International says that both ex-Séléka rebels and the Anti-Balaka have been guilty of human rights abuses, but that it is wrong to refer to their conflict as a battle between Muslim and Christian groups.

Open Doors International quotes a statement made by a group of CAR bishops in early December, which reads: “We deplore the [reports] that are made about the Anti-Balaka [being a Christian group]. The Anti-Balaka are the expression of the part of the population fed up with the many abuses committed by Séléka rebels. However, we reiterate that all Anti-Balaka are not Christians and all Christians are not Anti-Balaka. It is the same for ex-Séléka [members] and Muslims.

However, the charity says it would be foolish to rule out Séléka’s religious motives, claiming the group is 95% Muslim and that only 10% are CAR nationals. The rest, reports the charity, are jihadist militants from neighbouring Chad and Sudan.

The Vulnerability Assessment notes that at least 13 pastors have been killed in the conflict and many Christian churches, homes and schools burned down, while Muslims have largely been “left alone”.

In a letter to the charity, Pastor P.R. Guerengbo wrote: “Both Catholic and Protestant churches, and Christians in general, are more vulnerable to the conflict. Muslims in occupied cities are better protected. Moreover, Islamic leaders are respected and honoured by Séléka, in opposition to Christian leaders.”Open Doors International says the International Crisis Group was wrong to “completely overlook” the religious dimension of the conflict in its June 2013 report.

“The [ICG] report does not establish any relation between the latent religious tensions in the country, the strong Muslim presence within Séléka’s leadership and the high number of violent incidents targeting Christians,” Open Doors International writes. “In our opinion, the International Crisis Group is wrong to equate Séléka as a mere coalition of groups dissatisfied with the regime. Indeed, there are sufficient indicators that hint at the fact that Séléka has, at least in part, an Islamist agenda.”

World Watch Monitor reported in May that the Catholic Church wrote a letter to the then-new President, Michel Djotodia, asking him to explain the existence of a letter that appears to show Djotodia’s desire to turn the Central African Republic into an Islamic republic.

In the letter, to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Djeddah (Saudi Arabia) in April 2012, a scan of which was been seen by World Watch Monitor, Djotodia introduced himself as the defender of the Muslims’ cause in Chad and the Central African Republic.

He told them the two countries “have no respect for us” and asked for support from his “brothers”.

“In Central Africa, Muslims are insulted and despised every day and they are considered as foreigners… That’s why we decided in 2006 to organise ourselves, thanks to the support of some Muslim brothers from Sudan – to claim our rights,” said Djotodia, who was the leader of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), a rebel group operating in Northern CAR, a year ago.

In his two-page letter, Djotodia claimed that “all Christians are liars” and revealed his project for CAR.

“If by God’s will, we reach Bangui, we will set up an Islamic regime in order to apply the sharia [law],” he wrote. “Even if we fail to drive out Bozizé, we intend to transform some parts of Central Africa, Chad and Darfur, into a new Islamic republic.”