Last month, Central African Republic’s President Michel Djotodia “dissolved” the Seleka Islamist rebel group that helped him seize power in March. Djotodia announced the rebel group that looted, raped, burned down homes, and killed hundreds of civilians in recent months “no longer exists,” according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
But the group evidently didn’t get the message, and attacks against Christians persist. Rona Peligal, of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said people “are pretty skeptical about President Djotodia’s announcement” and think he was just distancing himself from Seleka’s brutality.
Peligal, HRW’s deputy director for Africa, said the situation in the majority-Christian nation is still dire: “Countless people are living in the bush right now because the Seleka have burned down their homes.” And abuses have continued.
Seleka militants have retained power because no other military or police force exists in CAR. In Bossangoa, the rebels gained control after 10 days of fighting that left 100 dead. Victimized civilians, including Christian vigilante groups, defended their land with home-made guns, machetes, and clubs.
Since the Seleka-led ouster of former President Francois Bozize and Djotodia’s installation earlier this year, lawlessness has reigned in the nation bordered by some of the continent’s hot spots. Bozize remains exiled in Cameroon.
The rebels have pillaged, beaten, raped, and killed civilians in recent months, and evangelicals and Catholics say they have been targeted. HRW, which has documented months of violence, confirmed Christians have reason to worry.
“It is clear, according to our research, that it is Christians who have been suffering under Seleka rule and Muslims have been profiting,” HRW’s Lewis Mudge told Morning Star News (MSN), a news service focused on Christian persecution. He said Seleka agents “have not hesitated to attack Christian places of worship.”
MSN obtained a letter CAR Christians said Djotodia wrote to the Organization of Islamic Conference in 2012 stating his plan to create a “new Islamic Republic” and impose sharia law. Djotodia denied writing the letter.
Evangelical leaders brought their concerns to Djotodia last May in a letter stating that “the various atrocities that preceded, accompanied, and followed Seleka’s rise to power have been specifically aimed at the Christian population.”
It continued: “Churches and Christian institutions have been desecrated and plundered, priests and pastors have been assaulted and nuns raped.” One of the leaders who signed the letter was later arrested for criticizing the government, but released the same day.
In one instance, the rebels murdered a priest on the Ngaragba Bridge during a funeral procession on April 13: “The priest walked toward the Seleka elements … raising a Bible in his hand and calling [them] to stop shooting. Three Seleka fighters stepped out of the pick-up, walked toward him and shot him dead,” according to HRW.