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An archbishop and a leading imam from Central African Republic (CAR) this week urged politicians in Europe to press for several thousand UN peacekeepers to be dispatched urgently to the country, to contain the continuing high levels of violence.
Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of the diocese covering the capital, Bangui, and Omar Kabine Layama, President of the CAR Islamic Community, said they were appealing for administrative and political help as well as military assistance to re-establish the rule of law.
The country descended into chaos following a coup by Séléka rebels last March that ousted long-time President François Bozizé, and order has not been restored despite the 20 January election of Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president.
Both men rejected any portrayal of the crisis as pitting Muslim against Christian. The imam, a monitor of peace and human rights in CAR, described the Séléka rebels as “jihadists” and said they came from Chad, Sudan and Qatar.
In response to killing and looting by the rebels, another group known as “anti-Balaka”, started to carry out revenge attacks. Around 935,000 people, just over a fifth of the population, have fled their homes.
The religious leaders said the 4,000-strong African Union-led military force that currently had the job of peacekeeping, was under-resourced and contained an “ambiguous” Chadian element. There is also a 1,600-strong French force, much better equipped, with helicopters and vehicles.
On Tuesday the French ambassador to the UN, Gérard Araud, said at least 10,000 peacekeeping troops were needed. On the same day the UN approved 500 EU troops who would be permitted to use force if necessary.
Through their friendship, the Catholic and Muslim leaders, along with Revd Nicolas Guérékoyamé Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance in CAR, have offered a model of interfaith co-operation to imams, priests and pastors across CAR.
While in Europe the two leaders met French President François Hollande, the Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders and the European Commission’s head of crisis response, Kristalina Georgieva.
In London they met Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and gave a briefing at the headquarters of the Catholic charity Cafod.
The pair welcomed the election of the new interim president, who Mr Layama noted “is committed to finding long-term reconciliation for Central Africans”.