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Central Africa – The days of the Apocalypse

The Central African Republic has been a hostage of violence for more than a year now. The Seleka rebels and Anti-Balaka (‘anti- machete’) militants, loot, ravage, kill. Places of worship are not spared. Here are some missionaries’ reports.

“We heard explosions and gunfire. We panicked. Each of us tried to hide wherever he could. Gunfire came closer to us. We heard screams, and crying. Shots hit our door. We came out with our hands up. The rebels kept on shooting. A group of Seleka broke into our room. They took anything within armís reach. They were shooting everywhere, on the ground, over our heads, just for fun”. Father Cipriano tells us about the arrival of a Seleka militia at the Bocaranga Mission, in the Ouham Pendè region, not far from the border with Chad and Cameroon. He looks tired, his legs are shaking. The Seleka rebels left only a few minutes ago, he is still shaken. They stole a car and destroyed another one. He tells us about the violence against unarmed civilians, guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were not able to save a wounded woman’, says Father Cipriano. The missionaries tried to provide first aid to those wounded in the courtyard of the mission while they were reached by alarming news of people killed or injured far away, ‘in the savannah’.

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The same tragedy occurred in Ngaoundaye, a town of 7,000 inhabitants, at about twenty kilometers from the border with Chad and Cameroon. Here is Father Benekís story. “As soon as we heard about the raid in Bocaranga, we decided to seek refuge in the forest, but it was too late. Seleka rebels soon arrived riding their motorcycles. They were looking for Anti- Balaka and since they did not find them, they started to assault people and things. They shot to intimidate and stole some cars. They also kidnapped one of our missionaries, who luckily, was released an hour later. Sister Barbara also has a dramatic story to tell with regard to the Ngaoundaye assault. ‘For the first time – says the missionary – I found myself face to face with Seleka rebels. We heard gunshots and we immediately realized that we could not escape. We came out with our hands up. The rebels began shooting in the air. They wanted to scare us. They asked us if there were Anti-Balaka troops there and then came into our rooms. They took everything they could. There was a man with them that spoke Sango, Central Africaís national language. The Seleka instead spoke Arabic. We were ordered to get out. I was afraid. They ordered me to get on a motorcycle, but I refused to. One of them took a rope and I thought they would beat me or tie me up. Then they decided to go to the fathersí mission, not far from ours. In the meantime, two of them stayed at our mission, pointing a gun at us, screaming and demanding money. I feared they would tie and rape us. I do not know how much time had passed, when suddenly we heard somebody screaming and the noise of a car. We rushed off”.

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Sister Barbara also tells us her opinion about the relations between the Seleka and Chad. “They are just pawns in a game directed by someone else”. “These tragic events are also an opportunity for personal and deep reflections. In those terrible moments – remembers the missionary – I was tempted to abandon the mission. I went through a moment of crisis and wanted to escape. But it was only a moment”.

(K.P.)

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