13 November 2015, The Tablet

Central African Republic fights hard to persuade Pope Francis' to keep travel plans

Religious and political leaders in the Central African Republic have sought to assure the Vatican that Pope Francis will be safe during his 33-hour visit to the war wracked country later this month.

The French army has been trying to persuade the Vatican to cancel the trip to its former colony as violence continued to ebb and flow ahead of a referendum and elections in the Central African Republic just after the Pope’s visit.

Armed assailants killed two men and three women in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui on Monday.

They also set homes on fire in retaliation for attacks at the weekend when hundreds of people were forced to flee their homes in Bangui after men from the mainly Muslim PK-5 neighbourhood slit the throat of one man and shot more than a dozen more.

UN peacekeepers go house to house in the Central African Republic's capital BanguiUN peacekeepers go house to house in the Central African Republic's capital Bangui (PA)


France said that it will not provide any military support for the trip, according to government sources reported in Le Monde newspaper.

But the acting president of the central African country, Catherine Samba Panza told France's RTL radio that she met with a member of the Pope's team and pushed for the visit to go ahead.

"I said the Pope must come," she said during a radio interview.

"The arrival of the Pope would be a great benediction. I believe that by the grace of God, the Pope will come and nothing will happen," she said.

"We're full of hope the Holy Father's presence will bring great benefits by enabling our people to achieve reconciliation; we must respond to this opportunity," said Mgr Cyriaque Gbate Doumalo, secretary-general of the bishops' conference.



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"The whole population is now actively preparing itself, and we think we can maintain security at least in the capital, Bangui. For the moment, there's no reason or justification to place the visit in doubt."

Muslim leaders also expressed hope that the visit still goes ahead. 

Imam Omar Kobine Layama, president of the Islamic Council in CAR told National Catholic Reporter"This will be a key event for all Central Africans, whatever their religious affiliations.

"We're hoping the Holy Father will bring a clear message about the unity of believers, interfaith dialogue, human rights and peace, which could really liberate us and help rebuild social links the various armed groups have destroyed."



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Meanwhile, The United Nations is preparing to send security reinforcements to the Central African Republic to curb insecurity and rising wave of violence before, during and after the  referendum on 13 December and elections on 27 December.

Two companies of UN peacekeepers serving in West Africa could temporarily be sent to the Central African Republic. Egypt will send 750 soldiers and Mauritania 140 policemen, which will bring the total number of troops deployed for the reinforcement to 1,140.

The new troops will add to the current 12,000 UN peacekeepers in the country.



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